Mississippians for Compassionate Care, the group behind Medical Marijuana 2020, has succeeded in putting a medical cannabis measure, Initiative 65, in front of Mississippi voters this November. State legislators have also introduced a competing measure, Alternative 65A, to appear on the ballot. Voters can choose between those two options or choose not to legalize medical cannabis in the state.
Medical Marijuana 2020 gathered 105,686 certified signatures, more than the required 86,185, for its initiative to appear on the ballot. The group gathered signatures from Mississippi’s five congressional districts from 2000, as is required by state law, and qualified for the ballot in January, said Jamie Grantham, communications director for the campaign.
“Our medical marijuana program here in Mississippi is going to be a robust program in that patients who need help will actually have access to regulated, safe, secure medical marijuana,” Grantham said. “It is going to be a strictly regulated program made especially for Mississippi. It'll be regulated by the Mississippi Department of Health, and medical marijuana treatment centers here in Mississippi will be the only places that medical marijuana will be available.”
The state representatives behind Alternative 65A could not be reached for comment by Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
According to a January 2019 survey from Millsaps College and Chism Strategies, 67% of respondents supported Medical Marijuana 2020’s proposal.
Medical Marijuana 2020 has a steering committee that Grantham said includes “influential leaders in the community, like physicians, religious leaders, veterans, law enforcement, business leaders.” Seventy-seven committee members are listed on the campaign website.
“The whole heart of the campaign, all the support, everything—it's specifically for patients with those medical conditions; they live with that day in and day out,” Grantham said. “And there's just no reason why they shouldn't have access to a plant that God made, that works with our bodies so well and are helping so many people across the nation.”
Tamar Todd is legal director of the Washington, D.C.-based New Approach PAC, which played an advisory role in the drafting and campaign of Medical Marijuana 2020. She also lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, on cannabis law, and the University of California, Davis, on drug policy, and works as a private consultant.
“We want to make sure that the measure is comprehensive and responsible and in line with ensuring that patients in Mississippi are going to receive meaningful access under a well-designed, well-regulated system,” Todd said. “So, we drew on experience in other medical marijuana states where we've worked to help bring that knowledge to Mississippi.”
In 2019, the Pew Research Center conducted a nationwide poll that found 91% of Americans support either medical cannabis legalization, either by itself or alongside adult-use legalization.
“We've seen medical marijuana pass pretty much anywhere where it managed to get on the ballot, including even Utah,” Todd said. “So, it has strong support. People in Mississippi want it and support it just like basically Americans everywhere want it and support it. So, I think there's strong confidence that voters will … vote for the measures.”
The state legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 39 to put Alternative 65A on the ballot. It contrasts with Initiative 65 in several ways. For instance, it limits smoking cannabis to the terminally ill; doesn’t specify possession limits, qualifying conditions, taxes, which agency will oversee the program or a deadline for such agency to issue medical cannabis cards.
Regarding Alternative 65A, Todd said:
“I think the takeaway from that is that if the Mississippi Legislature wanted there to be meaningful access to medical marijuana in Mississippi, it's been completely in their power for many years to enact a law that provides that. And they haven't done so. So, that's concerning, when you look at it, to say, ‘Well, does the legislature really want people to have this, or is this about the politics of the campaign?’ And if they don't really want people to have [meaningful] access to medical marijuana, then the alternative measure will allow them to interfere in the system in a lot of ways, undermine the system and make it less meaningful for sick patients who need access.”
Grantham said she believes the legislature is working to confuse voters and split the vote. What’s more, she said the lack of a timeline in the legislative proposal could halt the development of a medical cannabis program indefinitely.
“If they actually wanted to put a medical marijuana program in place, they would have done it legislatively,” Grantham said. “But there's been more than 25 attempts by people to pass [medical cannabis] bills legislatively, and they've never allowed them to go to the floor. So, the only reason they put the alternative on the ballot is because ours had just qualified.”