One year ago, over 300,000 Mississippi residents voted to approve medical cannabis legalization, yet this initiative has yet to be implemented. The bill, featured on the ballot for the 2020 election, proposed the legalization of medical cannabis for Mississippians with specific health conditions like epilepsy and chronic pain disorders. As someone with one of these health conditions, I am frustrated by the state’s unnecessarily long proceedings on the issue.
The initiative was first struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court in May 2021 following Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s challenge of the initiative’s constitutionality. Not only does this ruling affect the medical marijuana initiative, it voids the entire ballot initiative process, which allows voters to pass constitutional amendments without a legislative body creating the bill. The initiative process has been in place in Mississippi since 1992, with several others over the 30-year period appearing on previous ballots. Alongside the marijuana initiative was a proposal to change the state flag of Mississippi, which was also overwhelmingly approved in the election and later put in place by the state legislature.
Considering the support for the cannabis initiative, lawmakers have decided to draft a bill that will produce a similar system to the one voted on last November. The bill will create a medical cannabis program throughout the state, which counties and towns may opt out of with voter approval. House Speaker Phillip Gunn has said he believes the leadership of both the House and Senate are in agreement on the bill and have the votes to pass it in both chambers. All that needs to be done is for Governor Tate Reeves to call together a special session for the bill to be discussed and voted on, which he has agreed to, providing that lawmakers are in agreement and he agrees with the measure. Discussions and debates on the bill have run on all summer long, preventing any change from being implemented.
Had the initiative not been struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court, medical cannabis programs would have been up and running by August 2021, providing much needed assistance to those with severe conditions. It is scientifically proven that medical marijuana can help treat illnesses like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis by reducing pain and controlling seizures. Chronic pain is another large category that qualifies for medical cannabis under the proposed initiative, and as someone who suffers from a chronic pain disorder, I would certainly appreciate the opportunity to try this new treatment option.
Mississippi lawmakers who have halted and continue to deter the progression of the medical marijuana legalization are directly inhibiting thousands of Mississippi residents from seeking treatment that could help them live more stable, pain-free lives. Refusing to listen to the desires of the very voters who elected them, these public officials act directly against democracy when they put off passing this bill. Medical cannabis has been approved and utilized in 36 states and four territories across the U.S., and it is high time for Mississippi to get on board.
Briley Rakow is a sophomore majoring in integrated marketing communications from Lemont, Illinois.