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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: 503322

Reported Deaths: 10057
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34400541
DeSoto32318411
Hinds32074631
Jackson24551386
Rankin22103391
Lee15657235
Madison14662281
Jones13894243
Forrest13506253
Lauderdale12037318
Lowndes11091192
Lamar10531138
Pearl River9557238
Lafayette8581140
Hancock7751130
Washington7458161
Oktibbeha7152133
Monroe6796178
Warren6752176
Pontotoc6736104
Neshoba6656206
Panola6572131
Marshall6494135
Bolivar6331150
Union607794
Pike5849154
Alcorn5691102
Lincoln5468135
George502979
Scott474198
Tippah472481
Prentiss471582
Leflore4676144
Itawamba4651105
Tate4632111
Adams4617120
Copiah450092
Simpson4458116
Yazoo445388
Wayne440772
Covington429894
Sunflower4246105
Marion4236108
Coahoma4178108
Leake409888
Newton383179
Grenada3731108
Tishomingo361592
Stone360664
Jasper336565
Attala335290
Winston315391
Clay309077
Chickasaw302367
Clarke295894
Calhoun279947
Holmes268788
Smith266550
Yalobusha237247
Tallahatchie228752
Greene220649
Walthall219364
Lawrence213640
Perry206456
Amite206056
Webster203446
Noxubee186940
Montgomery179757
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169639
Tunica160139
Benton149439
Kemper142141
Choctaw134627
Claiborne132838
Humphreys129738
Franklin120728
Quitman106828
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson95934
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 821255

Reported Deaths: 15424
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1149051930
Mobile726651340
Madison52400699
Shelby37685350
Baldwin37285552
Tuscaloosa35147613
Montgomery34130740
Lee23556246
Calhoun22255490
Morgan21037378
Etowah19844500
Marshall18390304
Houston17406412
St. Clair16091339
Cullman15493293
Limestone15402199
Elmore15292286
Lauderdale14366295
Talladega13870283
DeKalb12670261
Walker11255370
Blount10227176
Autauga10061148
Jackson9909185
Coffee9215191
Dale8912186
Colbert8907201
Tallapoosa7103198
Escambia6782134
Covington6724183
Chilton6658162
Russell637659
Franklin5992105
Chambers5615142
Marion5016127
Dallas5013202
Pike4799106
Clarke477284
Geneva4577127
Winston4538103
Lawrence4352117
Bibb425686
Barbour358376
Marengo338390
Monroe332064
Randolph330264
Butler328596
Pickens317384
Henry313166
Hale311988
Cherokee303260
Fayette294580
Washington251651
Cleburne247960
Clay245568
Crenshaw245475
Macon235563
Lamar225747
Conecuh186654
Coosa180940
Lowndes175764
Wilcox169139
Bullock151844
Perry139240
Sumter133338
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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