HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The Nov. 3 election includes polarizing races and the opportunity for Mississippians to decide on a new flag. Another hot topic on the ballot is medical marijuana, with voters having the chance to decide if it will be allowed in the state.
The medical marijuana portion of the ballot features two selections for voters to make.
First, people have the option to vote for approval of either medical marijuana measure, which includes Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A, or against both measures. If the majority vote against both measures, there will be no medical marijuana allowed in the state.
If it passes, the next option decides how medical marijuana will be implemented. Those options are Initiative 65, which was placed on the ballot after a petition received the required number of signatures, and Alternative 65A, which was placed on the ballot by the Mississippi Legislature.
So while you may be against medical marijuana, not choosing an option on the second question leaves you out of the implementation decision if it passes.
Initiative 65 is an amendment to the state constitution drafted by the group Medical Marijuana 2020. The legislature placed Alternative 65A on the ballot after Initiative 65 qualified.
Jamie Grantham with Medical Marijuana 2020 is asking voters to choose Initiative 65.
“Thirty-four other states have medical marijuana programs and more than 3.5 million patients are receiving treatment through those programs," Grantham said. “There is zero reason why patients here in Mississippi should not have that same access.”
Dr. Thad Waites, chairman of the Mississippi State Board of Health, has come out against Initiative 65, saying the board of health isn’t meant to handle the duties laid out in the amendment.
“When I first saw it, I kind of said, ‘Whoa, I can’t believe this," because it puts everything on the state health department and it just looked like it was going to be tremendously difficult,” Waites said.
Grantham says state health departments in other states handle medical marijuana, adding that her group sat down with the board to get their insight on the initiative.
“It pertains to public health. This is a medical issue," Grantham said. “Someone has to regulate it and in other states, their state department of health is a standard regulatory agency for these programs.”
Waites is also concerned with the lack of control the legislature would have moving forward if it was passed.
“When it goes into the constitution, nobody can touch it without later having to do another constitutional amendment," Waites said.
The legislature’s option, Alternative 65A, would give the opportunity for changes, but Grantham argues it doesn’t require any action by the legislature.
“They don’t have a list of qualifying medical conditions, they don’t have a framework for how it would function, they don’t have a program start date," Grantham said. "There’s nothing in there that requires them to ever do anything.”
Waites adds that with Initiative 65, all of the taxes on the medical marijuana industry go back into the program.
“There is no benefit to the municipalities, to the state government, to the general fund," Waites said.
Grantham included that this would not allow the use of recreational medical marijuana, and the initiative does outline 22 illnesses that would qualify people for medical marijuana use.
“It requires that doctor certification, there’s medical marijuana ID cards, there are checks and balances. It is 100% medical,” Grantham said.
Waites also said the Mississippi State Medical Association and the American Medical Association are against the measure, but Grantham said polls show 81% of Mississippians are in favor of medical marijuana use for patients who are suffering.