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Dueling medical marijuana measures on Mississippi ballot

MGN Online

After years of seeing medical marijuana proposals shot down by the Mississippi Legislature, supporters decided to try something else: adding it to the state constitution.

Posted: Oct 31, 2020 8:38 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — After years of seeing medical marijuana proposals shot down by the Mississippi Legislature, supporters decided to try something else: adding it to the state constitution.

Citizens collected signatures of more than 100,000 Mississippi residents to force the issue onto the ballot. In response, Republican legislators drafted their own, more restrictive medical marijuana ballot measure.

The result is two dueling medical marijuana ballot questions and a process that is causing confusion even among voters who have been following the issue closely. Mississippians will choose either one — or neither — of two medical marijuana ballot measures. Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A would both amend the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana in some capacity, but with different approaches.

Initiative 65 would allow the prescription by a doctor of up to 5 ounces (142 grams) of marijuana per month for people with at least one of more than 20 medical conditions. The Mississippi Department of Health would issue identification cards to let patients obtain medical marijuana from licensed treatment centers.

Marijuana sales could be taxed at the current state sales tax rate of 7%. The program would be required to be up and running within the next year.

Alternative 65A, written by members of the Mississippi Legislature, would allow people with debilitating illnesses to access medical marijuana. Smoking of the drug would be reserved for terminal patients. The alternative leaves tax rates, possession limits and other details to the Legislature.

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Wednesday that he opposes Initiative 65 and is worried people will vote for one of the measures without knowing fully what they are supporting.

“There are a lot of misconceptions, a lot things people don’t understand,” Dobbs said. “It could change the makeup of our state.”

Proponents of Initiative 65 said Alternative 65A was an attempt to confuse voters and deny them a fair up-down vote on medical marijuana.

Others, including Dobbs, say Initiative 65 would allow the marijuana business to operate “unfettered” in Mississippi. He said it would be difficult to regulate where dispensaries locate and how many could come to the state. In addition, Initiative 65 would allow marijuana to be purchased in a variety of forms, including in joints and edibles that could be abused for recreational purposes.

“Gummy bears and blunts are not medication,” Dobbs said. “Are there some potential therapeutic effects of cannabis plants? Yes. It would be better to do it in a medically standardized way than just giving people loose-leaf marijuana given out by a pot store barista.”

Dobbs said such binding policies around medical marijuana should not be “etched in stone” in the constitution, where the program can’t be constrained or changed later by the Health Department or the Legislature.

He also does not agree with the Health Department being in charge of regulating the medical marijuana program. He said getting a program running in the next year would be a “major distraction” from efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Paul Robinson, who lives on the Mississippi coast, said by shooting down past efforts to legalize some form of medical marijuana, the Legislature has forced citizens to try other methods, like constitutional amendments.

Robinson's 17-year-old daughter suffered from refractory epilepsy, meaning medicine could not bring her seizures under control.

Jenna died six weeks before she was scheduled to visit a doctor in another state to learn more about medical marijuana, which has proved therapeutic to refractory epilepsy patients.

Legislators had already killed seven medical marijuana bills then. Now, they have killed at least 20, Robinson said.

“If you drive the family truck into the ditch 20 times, you’re no longer getting the keys. Fortunately, our state constitution provides a path for citizens to make laws when our lawmakers ignore their constituents," he said. “Now the very same politicians who have driven the truck into a ditch 20 times want the keys back. Their 65A would not help Jenna or any patients like her.”

He described the approach as "blatantly ignorant.”

Angie Calhoun, of Puckett, said her son had to move to Colorado when he was 19 because of chronic conditions such as focal seizures, severe joint pain and nausea. He was taking 17 prescriptions when he moved and was still suffering. Medical marijuana changed that.

“I remember thinking to myself after he had used medical marijuana that this seems like my happy, vibrant son again, and that was truly a blessing to me," she said.

Now, Calhoun's son wants to come home to Mississippi and raise a family, but she said he can't do that without access to medical marijuana.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 266598

Reported Deaths: 5852
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17928195
Hinds17030337
Harrison14510212
Rankin11315223
Jackson11054193
Lee9109147
Madison8663171
Jones6853120
Forrest6260125
Lauderdale6161196
Lowndes5582123
Lafayette5269101
Lamar508765
Washington4965125
Bolivar4164110
Oktibbeha411585
Panola389881
Pontotoc380460
Monroe3727111
Warren3716103
Marshall360172
Union360165
Pearl River3527106
Neshoba3516158
Leflore3132110
Lincoln308389
Hancock300963
Sunflower294277
Tate281862
Alcorn274055
Pike272984
Itawamba271263
Scott264055
Yazoo258456
Prentiss255454
Coahoma252455
Copiah251549
Tippah251551
Simpson244872
Leake238967
Marion228274
Covington224873
Grenada224673
Wayne216336
Adams216271
Winston208271
George206440
Newton201447
Attala197465
Tishomingo196361
Chickasaw190245
Jasper183138
Holmes172568
Clay168637
Tallahatchie158035
Stone153625
Clarke148762
Calhoun142022
Smith131926
Yalobusha124935
Walthall115438
Greene114929
Noxubee114526
Montgomery112936
Lawrence107917
Carroll106922
Perry105931
Amite102727
Webster98024
Claiborne90125
Tunica89621
Jefferson Davis89330
Benton86923
Humphreys85625
Kemper81220
Quitman7169
Franklin71017
Choctaw64013
Wilkinson60125
Jefferson57321
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1616
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 445909

Reported Deaths: 6896
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson651891049
Mobile32138590
Madison28596223
Tuscaloosa21703276
Montgomery20220336
Shelby19584138
Baldwin17496216
Lee13378109
Morgan12741145
Etowah12196189
Calhoun11626228
Marshall10513126
Houston9097168
Limestone842481
Cullman8363125
Elmore8283112
Lauderdale7986112
DeKalb7935112
St. Clair7915139
Talladega6552112
Walker6068184
Jackson605649
Colbert560194
Blount551794
Autauga544065
Coffee470569
Dale415186
Franklin378150
Russell362816
Chilton348079
Covington344681
Escambia342244
Tallapoosa3184109
Dallas314197
Chambers308575
Clarke307339
Pike267735
Lawrence256958
Marion255763
Winston235243
Bibb224751
Geneva214747
Marengo212031
Pickens201831
Barbour188240
Hale187444
Fayette181230
Butler175960
Cherokee167433
Henry161325
Monroe153521
Randolph148236
Washington144027
Clay131050
Crenshaw126245
Macon124337
Cleburne123627
Lamar121324
Lowndes117636
Wilcox109422
Bullock105829
Perry100518
Conecuh98222
Sumter90828
Greene78323
Coosa64619
Choctaw52224
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