Medical marijuana will be on this year’s ballot, with a confusing alternative

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 27, 2020

Mississippi voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana in the state during the election set for November.

The medical marijuana initiative, Initiative 65, is an indirect initiated constitutional amendment.

However, this vote comes with a confusing alternative that, if approved, enacts more strict regulations in relation to who qualifies for medical marijuana.

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Voting for Initiative 65 supports the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi. It would allow medical marijuana treatment for specified qualifying conditions such as cancer or epilepsy, and allow individuals to possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana at once, according to the initiative.

The Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign sponsored the original Initiative 65. The organization submitted 105,686 valid signatures in September of 2019.

However, the Legislature has proposed an alternative measure to the original initiative called Alternative 65A, which adds more strict regulation.

Voting for Alternative 65A would restrict prescribing medical marijuana to terminally ill patients and leave tax rates and possession limits to be set by the Legislature, according to the alternative measure.

The original initiative, Initiative 65, outlines 22 qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana use. Smoking marijuana in public places would be prohibited for medical marijuana patients, according to the initiative. The administering agency would be the Mississippi Department of Health and the deadline for medical marijuana cards to be issued would be August 15, 2021.

The alternative amendment, Alternative 65A, does not specify qualifying conditions, possession limits, tax rates on medical marijuana sales or the administering agency for medical marijuana.

Mississippians opposed to the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi should vote “neither measure” signifying that they want neither Initiative 65 nor Alternative 65A to pass. The voter can then proceed to the next question and choose if they would prefer Initiative 65 or Alternative 65A to pass if the “either measure” option receives more votes than the “neither measure” option.

Mississippians in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi should vote “either measure” signifying that they want either Initiative 65 or Alternative 65A to pass. The voter would then proceed to the next question and specify whether they want Initiative 65 (the original initiative) or Alternative 65A (the Legislature’s proposed alternative amendment) to pass.

In an emailed statement to the Item, State Representative – Mississippi House District 108 Stacey Hobgood-Wilkes, wrote, “I believe that Initiative 65, sponsored by the [Medical] Marijuana 2020 group, is a disingenuous attempt to legalize all recreational drug use. The initiative goes way too far, way too fast, amending our state constitution with extensive and complicated language aimed at tricking voters into thinking this will be limited to cancer patients and others with real needs. I also believe that supporters of the initiative are working to decriminalize drug trafficking and drug use under the banner of ‘criminal justice reform.’ These so-called reforms are making it impossible for law enforcement to do their jobs and keep our communities safe.”

The Medical Marijuana 2020 website states, “Medical Marijuana 2020 is a campaign to make medical marijuana available to Mississippians who have debilitating medical conditions in a legal and safe manner.”

The website states that the campaign is backed by medical professionals, law enforcement representatives, leaders in the faith community and veterans. It states that medical marijuana is also a safer alternative to prescription opioids.

“States that have authorized the use of medical marijuana have shown a 25% reduction in opioid-related deaths,” the Medical Marijuana 2020 website states. “Medical marijuana is a much safer alternative to opioids and can treat pain unresponsive to other forms of medication.”

Attempts to contact the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign for comment were unsuccessful by press time.

Attempts to contact State Senator Angela Hill for comment were unsuccessful by press time.

Mississippi House District 106 Representative Jansen Owen declined to comment on this issue.