This November 2020 election, cannabis legalization initiatives will appear on the ballots of five states: Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota. Every Sunday until November 3, Canna Law Blog will publish a post centered on one of these state ballot initiatives, and the current laws surrounding cannabis in that state. Last Sunday, we discussed the proposition on the ballot in Arizona. Today is the second post, in which we discuss Mississippi Ballot Measure 1, known as the Medical Marijuana Initiative. Mississipians will vote on two versions of this initiative: Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A.
What are the current laws surrounding cannabis in Mississippi?
Cannabis, recreational or medical, is currently not legal in Mississippi. The state has, however, decriminalized cannabis for personal use to a certain extent; the penalty for a first-time possession offense is a fine rather than jail time. However, the illegality of cannabis in Mississippi disproportionately impacts black people, who are 2.7 times more likely to be arrested on a cannabis-related charge than white people in the state.
Additionally, in 2014, the passage of Harper’s Grace Law by the state legislature legalized the use of CBD oil for medical use by individuals with debilitating epileptic conditions. Under this law, CBD oil used by qualifying individuals must be tested and closely regulated. During a 2017 legislative session, the regulations were loosened a bit to allow for the dispense of CBD oil at more pharmacies and laboratories.
What’s the ballot initiative this coming election?
Mississippians will vote on two versions of the Medical Marijuana Initiative: Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A. Both versions of this initiative would both allow for patients with debilitating health conditions to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. The main difference between these two versions is that Initiative 65 specifies rules and regulations for the legalization of medical marijuana while Alternative 65A would instead give the state legislature the responsibility of determining these details. For example, if Initiative 65 passes, patients suffering from one of 20 qualifying medical conditions will become eligible to use cannabis for medicinal purposes and be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces at a time. Additionally, Initiative 65 would institute a 7 percent tax on the sale of cannabis. Alternative 65A, on the other hand, does not specify which medical conditions would qualify patients, the amount of cannabis these patients could possess, a start date the medical cannabis program would start, legal protections for those involved in the program, or how much cannabis would be taxed. These details would instead be determined by the state congress after the initiative passed.
Why are there two different versions of the same initiative on the ballot? The Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign, the sponsors of the original version of Initiative 65, submitted enough citizen signatures for the initiative to be sent to the state legislature, in accordance with Mississippi state law. Alternative 65A was created when the state legislature voted to amend Initiative 65 in March 2020. When an initiative is submitted to the Mississippi state legislature, congress can then decide to adopt, amend, reject, or ignore the initiative. Regardless of what the legislature does, the initiative will appear on the ballot of the next election, but if the legislature decides to amend the Initiative, both the amended and original versions of the initiative will appear on the ballot. That’s why Mississippians will vote on both Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A this coming election. Notably, support within the state legislature for the amended version of the initiative was highly partisan: 89 percent of Republicans approved and 87 percent of Democrats disproved.
How voting will work for the two versions of Initiative 65 is also a bit complex. Voters must first pick between whether they would like to approve “either” or “neither” version of the initiative. Regardless of which option they pick, voters must then select their preferred version, the initiative or the alternative. For either version of the initiative to be enacted, there must first be more votes for “either” than “neither”. If this is true, then the version of the initiative that receives the majority of the “preferred” votes will be enacted, on the contingency that at least 40 percent of voters support the initiative.
Prospects of the passage of Initiative 65, and the alternative Initiative 65A
Data about public opinion surrounding Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A is relatively scarce. However, a poll conducted in May 2020 found that 75 percent of respondents would vote yes on either initiative. The poll also found that a majority of respondents approved the original initiative over the alternative, with 52 percent preferring Initiative 65 and the only 25 percent preferring Alternative 65A. Therefore, from the data available, the passage of Initiative 65 (or, at the very least, its Alternative) seems likely as the Mississippi public seems to generally approve of the legalization of cannabis for medical use.