This Nov. 3, Mississippi voters will be provided with the option of legalizing medical marijuana on the ballot, but the vote will have multiple options. Voters will be able to vote in support of a medical marijuana program through the options of initiative measure no. 65 or alternative measure no. 65A, or vote against the legalization.
According to Jamie Grantham, communications director for the Medical Marijuana 2020 Campaign for Initiative 65, Initiative 65 was a collaborative effort by Mississippians to provide the option of a vote. Grantham said the state Legislature has never passed a medical marijuana program and has shut down more than 20 proposed bills in the past. Initiative 65 is the result of more than 228,000 Mississippians petitioning for the option to be placed on the ballot.
Grantham described the appearance of Alternative 65A on the ballot as an effort of the legislature to once again block a medical marijuana program once Initiative 65 qualified.
"The legislature placed Alternative 65A on the ballot after 65 qualified. After every i had been dotted and t had been crossed and all the requirements were met, voters should have been able to have a simple yes or no, a fair up or down vote on the ballot," Grantham said. "The legislature has had more than 20 years to put a program in place. if they truly wanted to have a program, they would have done it. 65A is not a genuine effort."
Grantham noted some of the key features of Initiative 65 are a clear start date, organized framework, a self-funded program and a comprehensive list of 22 included medical conditions qualified for treatment; including cancer; ALS and chronic pain, but Alternative 65A lacks this amount of definition.
"Alternative 65A doesn't have any of that. It would only be for terminally ill patients and there is no list of debilitating medical conditions, so it leaves it up to politicians to decide who would qualify," Grantham said. "65A does not have a program start date, so there is not even a guarantee that they would ever put a program in place. There is nothing in 65A that requires them to ever start a program. On top of that, there is also no framework, so voters have no idea what they are voting for. Alternative 65A would also be on taxpayer's shoulders to fund the program."
Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said he believes criminalization of marijuana to be a "century-long failed policy" which hinders the criminal justice system, wastes taxpayer dollars and creates a distrust for law enforcement and marijuana users alike.
Armentano cited the success of present recreational and medicinal systems present in the U.S. as reason for Mississippi to move towards medical legalization.
"With respect to the ballot in Mississippi, we are at a point now where over 30 states have legalized the production and dispensing of medical marijuana for patients. We know that some of these state-sponsored programs have been in place now for more than two and a half decades, providing us with ample real-world evidence as to the safety and effectiveness of these programs. Over time, the majority of states that have legalized medical marijuana have expanded those laws and policies so that a greater number of patients can benefit from those laws," Armentano said. "I think that speaks to the reality that these policies are effective, seldom abused and both lawmakers and the public that reside in these jurisdictions with these legal medical marijuana policies clearly prefer those policies over criminalization."
Starkville resident and SAGE Coffee & Books Owner Lara Hammond is a strong supporter of legalization. She has a personal connection to marijuana due to her mother's sickness when she was younger.
"When I came home to Mississippi, my mom had Alzheimer's, and it was a real shame she couldn't get any medicine. So I have been an activist for many years," Hammond said. "Who is to say? My mom might have lived another 10 years if I had access to cannabis, reliable and good cannabis. I definitely believe in legalization, 100%."
Hammond will vote for it, despite her belief it should not be a political issue.
"I believe in voting for it, even though it is a very convoluted issue. It is a political football, and it really shouldn't be because it is people's lives. It is a right to life and happiness issue, as well as a constitutional issue," Hammond said.
Hammond insisted legalization would be a resounding positive for Mississippi.
"It is a win-win for the state, for humanity, for farmers. It needs to happen. If it gets on the books and we realize it is not the best bill, we can fix it. At least it is the people standing up for what they want," Hammond said. "If you don't like it, just stay away from it. That is the beauty of a free country. We are in the land of the free and home of the brave."
This project was produced with support from a grant from the American Press Institute.