Mississippi voters approve marijuana legalization

Mississippi voters comfortably approved a citizen-led initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state, despite fears the two-step ballot process might confuse voters.

Voters were first asked whether Mississippi should allow medical marijuana, to which 68 percent said yes. They were then asked whether they prefer the medical marijuana proposal put forward by the coalition of marijuana reform advocates who helped get the legalization question on the ballot in the first place, or a much more restrictive version – Initiative 65A – proposed by the legislature. The citizen-led proposal – Initiative 65 – won with more than 73 percent of the vote.

As a result, by August 2021 Mississippi will establish a medical marijuana program overseen by the state Department of Health that will make cannabis available to patients suffering from any of 22 or more medical conditions. Initiative 65 allows qualifying patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per two week period. The approved ballot measure stipulates the Department of Health must finalize the regulations for Mississippi’s medical marijuana program by July 1, 2021.

“Initiative 65 puts the needs and interests of patients first. This was a grassroots effort to provide patients with access to a treatment option that patients already enjoy in 34 other states and in the District of Columbia,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “By contrast, Initiative 65A was a cynical effort by lawmakers to misdirect voters. The same state lawmakers that for decades had refused to ever seriously address the issue were the ones behind 65A, and voters wisely rejected their campaign.”

Initiative 65 A would have prohibited smoking cannabis for therapeutic purposes unless the patient is terminally ill. It also only allowed for the use of marijuana of “suitable pharmaceutical quality,” which is left undefined but could be interpreted as a call to only permit cannabis medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Given the fierce opposition to marijuana reform in Mississippi, many advocates for the measures suspect the alternative proposal put on the ballot by lawmakers was more about confusing voters than offering a reasoned policy option.

“Just like we saw in the 2018 victory in Utah, Mississippi voters have proven that medical marijuana legalization is politically viable in even the most conservative states in the country,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “This victory is especially significant considering voters were able to see past the legislature’s attempt to derail Amendment 65 by proposing a confusing and unnecessary alternative initiative of their own.”

Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted against legalizing medical marijuana days before the election. Mississippi State Board of Health member Jim Perry spoke on the radio about how all medical associations and law enforcement branches are opposed to medical marijuana legalization.

But recent polling on the matter in Mississippi tells a different story. One taken in June 2020 reported more than eight in ten Mississippians are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. The same poll also found only 18 percent of respondents preferred the legislator’s medical marijuana proposal to the citizen-led initiative.

These findings have now been validated by the medical marijuana ballot election results in Mississippi. The question remains, however, will lawmakers and state officials hostile to the measure drag their feet on implementing the will of voters or get to work according to the outlined timetable?

Following the vote in Mississippi, 36 states now allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

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