MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Voters in Mississippi will decide this November whether to legalize medical marijuana in the state after a signature drive got the measure on the ballot. The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office validated the signatures earlier this week.
Mississippi would be the second Mid-South state to legalize medical marijuana if voters approve it. Arkansas voters allowed medical marijuana in a ballot initiative vote in 2016. That program is now operational.
But even before voters in Mississippi make their voices heard, lawmakers get a say.
“It’s a life changing alternative treatment for so many people,” said Jamie Grantham, Communications Director, Medical Marijuana 2020. “These are very serious conditions that people live with on a daily basis and medical marijuana can help them get through their days.”
Leaders with Mississippi’s Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign scored a big victory this week as the state validated signatures submitted for review, the end result of a 12-month effort. Roughly 86,000 signatures were needed to ensure the question makes it on the ballot in November.
Advocates said the program would allow physicians to certify medical marijuana as a treatment to a list of 22 qualifying medical conditions like cancer or ALS. There is also a designation that gives a physician a special allowance to marijuana for a similar medical diagnosis to the conditions listed.
While Arkansas’ program limits the number of places that could sell medical marijuana, the proposal in Mississippi is a free-market approach.
But Mississippi’s Department of Public Health in December said it was opposed to legalization citing addiction, mental illness, and the usage descriptions being too broad. Outgoing governor Phil Bryant tweeted Wednesday the proposal needed to be defeated in its current form.
“Anyone who’s going to stand in the way of patients getting access to medicine that can help them, they’re entitled to do that,” said Grantham.
Mississippi lawmakers can also exert their influence this legislative session with the ability to change the initiative and create a different one for voters to evaluate in November. Both would appear on the ballot.
“They could put their own competing version on the ballot and make the argument that if you want medical marijuana do it with more safeguards,” said Michael Nelson, WMC Action News 5 political analyst.
Nelson said Mississippi lawmakers should consider the financial implications for the state. Arkansas announced it sold $28 million worth of medical marijuana in 2019, its first calendar year of sales.
“It’s a way for the state to raise revenue by not imposing taxes. Nobody has to buy medical marijuana,” said Nelson.
WMC Action News 5 reached out to Governor-elect Tate Reeves for comment on the ballot initiative. We did not receive a response as of press time Thursday.