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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: 516486

Reported Deaths: 10299
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison35042558
DeSoto33463432
Hinds32797643
Jackson24926392
Rankin22593405
Lee16523245
Madison14978283
Jones14191248
Forrest13852260
Lauderdale12326323
Lowndes11387193
Lamar10713140
Pearl River9759244
Lafayette8881143
Hancock7848132
Washington7561169
Oktibbeha7234138
Monroe7091179
Pontotoc7060110
Warren6892178
Panola6807135
Neshoba6753210
Marshall6735142
Bolivar6472151
Union645699
Alcorn5950108
Pike5947157
Lincoln5544136
George511080
Prentiss510185
Tippah497983
Itawamba4903107
Scott479499
Tate4786118
Adams4784125
Leflore4756144
Yazoo458492
Copiah458395
Simpson4577117
Wayne443772
Covington435395
Sunflower4331106
Marion4311112
Coahoma4259110
Leake414491
Newton396182
Tishomingo388894
Grenada3796109
Stone366466
Attala341690
Jasper341566
Chickasaw319167
Winston318892
Clay313978
Clarke301995
Calhoun288950
Holmes273389
Smith270852
Yalobusha245847
Tallahatchie232653
Greene225449
Walthall222166
Lawrence220842
Perry214656
Amite210357
Webster206748
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182757
Carroll175841
Jefferson Davis174643
Tunica163939
Benton153439
Kemper145541
Choctaw137827
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132339
Franklin126630
Quitman107928
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97334
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 848779

Reported Deaths: 16185
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1164582005
Mobile744601384
Madison53563738
Shelby38454371
Baldwin38215589
Tuscaloosa36172644
Montgomery34573782
Lee25690264
Calhoun22636520
Morgan22548411
Etowah20075520
Marshall18865318
Houston17795426
St. Clair16968359
Limestone16206220
Cullman16170306
Elmore15952295
Lauderdale15093307
Talladega14267302
DeKalb13095271
Walker12180380
Blount10791193
Autauga10562157
Jackson10221196
Coffee9440192
Colbert9376210
Dale9049192
Tallapoosa7287202
Russell711465
Chilton7098170
Covington6973197
Escambia6969144
Franklin6369108
Chambers5810142
Marion5446132
Dallas5306210
Pike5135109
Clarke486086
Lawrence4852130
Winston4804110
Geneva4656136
Bibb436495
Barbour370880
Butler3445101
Marengo342993
Monroe338566
Randolph338067
Pickens335090
Fayette332285
Henry321266
Cherokee320564
Hale319589
Crenshaw261878
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay253169
Macon246367
Conecuh193562
Coosa186048
Wilcox178538
Lowndes178468
Bullock152845
Perry141940
Sumter139841
Greene130745
Choctaw94628
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