Mississippi Marijuana Laws: Your Crash Course in Where We’re at, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Go
With Mississippians overwhelmingly voting to establish a medicinal marijuana market, two questions come to mind: Is now a good time to get a marijuana card, and how did we get here?
The answer to that first question is a resounding yes, by all means, get your medical marijuana card; as for how we got here and where we’re going, well, that answer is a little more complicated.
The Journey of a Thousand Miles
Mississippi’s march towards legalization began with a few distinct, tentative steps. In 2014, the Mississippi Legislature passed Harper Grace's Law, which allowed CBD oil by prescription for those with certain specific and severe forms of epilepsy.
At the time of its passage, the bill mandated that CBD oil distributed under the law must be tested at the University of Mississippi and dispensed by the Department of Pharmacy Services at the university’s medical center. Further, CBD oil was limited to no more than 0.5% THC.
A few years later, in 2017, the law was expanded to allow general pharmacies to dispense CBD oil as long as they did so in accordance with federal and state regulations.
Then in October 2020, less than a month before Mississippi voters would vote to legalize medical marijuana, Governor Tate Reeves signed into law Mississippi SB3056, which removed cannabinoid drugs from the list of those the state recognizes as narcotics. That part of the law received less coverage than the part that held that any drugs approved at the federal level as COVID treatments would automatically be approved at the state level.
Legalization Comes to Mississippi (Probably)
Mississippi’s marijuana policies took a giant leap forward in the November 2020 election… maybe.
Ballot issue Initiative 65, which legalized medical marijuana, was overwhelmingly approved by Mississippi voters. The legislation found its way onto the ballot as the result of the petition signatures of more than 200,000 Mississippians, according to WLBT, Jackson’s NBC affiliate.
Mississippi legislators responded to the grassroots initiative by adding a ballot issue of their own, Initiative 65A.
What a Difference a Letter Makes
While both Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A proposed to alter the Mississippi Constitution to allow for the creation of a medical marijuana market in the state, they shared little in common besides that.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, 65A would allow the use of marijuana only in cases of terminal illness, and it did not provide a timetable or framework for the creation of the market.
In contrast, Initiative 65 proposed legalizing marijuana use for Mississippians with any of 22 qualifying conditions, and while many of the finer details of the proposed law were missing or vague in the ballot language, the issue established a timeline for resolving those details.
Are You Voting Against It or Not For It?
Critics of the legislators’ initiative claimed the competing ballot issue was created just to undermine the will of Mississippians by splitting the vote and sowing confusion.
Supporters of Initiative 65 pointed out that the state legislature had previously blocked more than 20 legalization bills, leading to the grassroots ballot initiative as a way to finally bring medicinal marijuana to the state. Those supporters maintain that the legislature’s sudden urgency to pass a legalization bill more restrictive than the one voters had added to the ballot could, in light of the lawmakers’ previous resistance, only be interpreted as an attempt to confuse voters.
Ballot Language Leaves Voters Dazed and Confused
Consider voting instructions on the ballot. Voters were told to vote in a two-step process. First, they had to vote either to pass one of the issues or reject them both. After that, they had to select which ballot issue they supported, or, in the case of voters who had opted not to support either initiative, select which ballot issue they would rather see passed even if they didn’t support either one.
Confused? The specific ballot language didn’t help; according to the Clarion-Ledger, “Because of the ballot structure, there's potential for confusion on the medical marijuana question. [...] There's a two-step process for voting on 65 and 65A. The ballot first instructs people to ‘Vote for approval of either, or against both.’ It then says, ‘And for [sic] vote for one’ — either 65 or 65A.”
One look at how that was worded on the ballot shows how easily voters might have misunderstood what’s being asked of them. According to the Daily Leader, the ballot language read:
Vote for Approval of Either, or Against Both
FOR APPROVAL OF EITHER Initiative Measure No. 65 or Alternative Measure No. 65A
AGAINST BOTH Initiative Measure No. 65 and Alternative Measure No. 65A
AND vote for ONE
FOR Initiative Measure No. 65
FOR Alternative Measure No. 65A
Voters Have Their Say
If Initiative 65A was meant to prevent the passage of Initiative 65 via confusion, it either failed to fool the voters or confused all of the voters who were against legalization. Voters opted 68.52% to 31.48% in favor of some sort of legalization, with 73.7% in favor of Initiative 65 and 26.3%
In support of Initiative 65A.
So That’s the End of That, Right?
Madison, Mississippi v. Mississippi Secretary of State
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a lawsuit to prohibit the implementation of Initiative 65 mere days before the election.
Her complaint in a nutshell: When Mississippi went from five congressional districts to four after the 2000 Census, language in the state’s Constitutional process for permitting ballot issues was not revised to reflect that change. Butler and her supporters argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court on April 14, 2021, that no ballot issue could be Constitutionally passed if the Constitution’s process for ballot approval is partially based on a nonexistent number of congressional districts.
In short, Hawkins argued that the state never should have allowed the issue to appear on the ballot, and therefore it cannot become law.
In the meantime, the state Health Department is continuing plans to establish a medical marijuana market by the mid-point of 2021, the deadline established by Initiative 65. Whether all their work goes up in smoke, along with the votes of the vast majority of Mississippians, remains to be seen.
Voters Suggest Another Legalization Bill
Another grassroots effort at adding another legalization ballot initiative got underway almost immediately after the passage of Initiative 65. This time, however, the aim is more ambitious than establishing a medical market.
Passage of Initiative 77 would broadly legalize growing, possessing, and using marijuana. The movement to establish the initiative was undertaken by a medical doctor, David Allen, who filed paperwork in spring of 2021.
Just as the movement began almost immediately after the passage of Initiative 65, it hit a stumbling block right out of the gate. Local newspapers were sent public notices from the Secretary of State on April 7, 2021, so that they could be published as a prelude to the signature-gathering portion of the process.
Less than a month later, WLBT reported on May 10, 2021, that due to an error on the part of the Mississippi Press Service, public notice of Initiative 77 did not appear in all of the required newspapers, so it will not be eligible to appear on the November 2021 ballot.
Dr. Allen says he will continue undeterred until Mississippi voters get a chance to be heard on the matter, and will refile the paperwork.
What’s Next for Legalization in Mississippi?
Let’s make like Guns N’ Roses and ask “Where do we go now?”
The status of Initiative 65 remains up in the air until the Mississippi Supreme Court issues its ruling, and Initiative 77 remains in limbo for at least another year.
While it obviously isn’t over until it’s over, my guess is it’s only a matter of time before a medical market is established under Initiative 65.
I keep thinking of those numbers from the 2020 election: 68.52% in favor of some sort of legalization of medicinal marijuana, 73.7% in favor of Initiative 65 specifically. Add to that a recent Pew survey showing that 90% of Americans support legalization, and it seems the demand is just too high (no pun intended) to ignore.
Can you think of any other issue almost 74% of voters in any state would agree on? And I can’t see those 74% of Mississippi voters looking too kindly on their vote being overturned by a pedantic reading of the law specifically and the state Constitution generally.
Further, one has to assume that there is significant overlap between Mississippians who support legalization for medical marijuana and those who would support it for recreational use. And if Initiative 77 supporters are even half as passionate as Initiative 65 supporters, I just don’t see how that bill can ultimately be denied either.
Legalization Hasn’t Officially Come yet, but You Can Still Get the Ball Rolling
With medical marijuana so tantalizingly close for Mississippians, why delay in starting the process of getting your card? You could be ready to enjoy the relief medicinal marijuana has to offer just as soon as the market is established.
Reserve your appointment today, and you’ll be ready for a medical evaluation by a Mississippi marijuana doctor when we start offering them. You’ll also save $25 off your examination. To begin the process of getting your card, or have your questions answered by one of our friendly support staff by calling (833) 781-6635.
Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.
Helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.
If you have any questions, call us at (833) 781-6635, or simply reserve a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!
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