On Nov. 3, Mississippi residents will have the opportunity to vote on the legalization of medical marijuana. Ballot Initiative 65, if passed by voters, would amend the state constitution to provide a program under the Mississippi Department of Health that would allow citizens with “debilitating conditions,” such as cancer, epilepsy and more than 20 other defined conditions, to obtain medical marijuana.
The Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign, based in Ridgeland and sponsored by the Mississippians for Compassionate Care political group, started the petition for the amendment in July of 2018 after the Mississippi Secretary of State and Mississippi Attorney General’s office approved the ballot initiative.
The completed petitions were submitted on Sept. 4, and over four months later, on Jan. 8, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office confirmed that the petition had generated enough certified signatures to qualify for placement on the ballot.
Mississippians for Compassionate Care needed to turn in 17,237 signatures from each of the five congressional districts, for a total of 86,185. Ultimately, they had over 105,000 signatures accredited.
In a previous interview with The Daily Mississippian, Jamie Grantham, Medical Marijuana 2020’s communications director, said, “We looked at other states, studied programs, people who implicated programs, as well as patients. It was really helpful to us, especially when the language was being drafted.”
The campaign’s proposed amendment specifies that no patient could possess more than 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana at one time, and no more than that amount could be provided in a span of 14 days. Additionally, no marijuana treatment center would be allowed to be located within 500 feet of a school, church or child care establishments.
The state legislature now has until May to review, amend, adopt or reject the initiative prior to the state’s next general election. If legislators decide to amend the language, though, both the original and amended versions of the initiative will appear on the ballot, according to Section 23-17-29 of the Mississippi Code Annotated. This section of code also dictates that the initiative must receive over 40% of the total votes cast in the election.
Director of Pharmacy Health Services Sandy Bentley said in a prior interview with The Daily Mississippian that every medication has some kind of risk, even when prescribed by a doctor. She said that the reason doctors prescribe the medication is that the benefits outweigh the risks. Medical marijuana is no different.
“There has to be a case-by-case basis on how to judge medical marijuana,” Bentley said. “I don’t think you can have a blanket policy for it.”
Still, the Mississippi Board of Health expressed its “strong opposition” to the initiative on account of the “numerous known harms from the use of cannabis products including addiction, mental illness, increased accidents, and smoking related harms.” The board voted on the resolution against the Medical Marijiana 2020 initiative earlier this month.