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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: 294994

Reported Deaths: 6681
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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