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Mississippians Will Officially Vote on Legalizing Medical Marijuana in November 2020

Petitioners gathered more than 105,000 signatures to get medical marijuana legalization on Mississippi's 2020 ballot. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

After Petal, Miss., police office James Moore lost his son, Jeffrey, from a heroin overdose in 2015, he began to think about ways that his son’s life might have been—and the way other lives might still be—saved.

“Jeffrey and I had a lot of discussions about marijuana,” Moore said in 2018 interview. “Had we had a different way of fighting the drug war than we do right now, he might still be here.”

Now, Mississippi voters will have the opportunity to turn the corner on medical marijuana. Ballot Initiative 65, which would legalize medical marijuana in the State if voters choose to adopt it, is officially on the November 2020 ballot.

Outgoing Gov: ‘Defeat This Proposal’

In September, Mississippians for Compassionate Care, the group behind the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign that has been gathering signatures since the fall of 2018, submitted 105,686 signatures to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office to get the issue on the ballot; they only needed 86,000 verified signatures.

During the legislative session that began this week, the Mississippi Legislature could decide to take action to either adopt, amend, or reject the initiative.

Medical Marijuana 2020 Field Outreach Director Ken Newburger poses with boxes containing 105,686 verified signatures from Mississippians who support legalizing medical marijuana. Photo courtesy Mississippians for Compassionate Care.

In 2015, the GOP-controlled Legislature essentially mangled an initiative that would have required the body to fully fund public education every year. But the version that ended up on the ballot was a confusing two-part question, and the initiative failed—an outcome many State Republicans preferred.

When it comes to medical marijuana, though, conservative groups and some Republican officials are backing the measure. That includes conservative Ocean Springs Mayor Shea Dobson.

“Those who say we should prohibit medicine to people who we ask to go and fight in wars are anti-military,” Dobson said. “And I think breaking up homes by throwing kids or parents into jail because they decide to medicate with medical marijuana is anti-family.”

Shortly after the ballot became official on Wednesday, though, Mississippi’s outgoing Republican governor, Phil Bryant, tweeted that “we need to defeat this proposal in its current form,” citing “physicians and others on the Board of Health” who oppose it.

Some Medical Professionals Back Legalization

In 2018, Phyllis Hollenback, a primary-care provider at the Jackson VA Medical Center, told this reporter in a story for the Jackson Free Press that she thinks medical marijuana could offer benefits for people struggling with chronic pain, mental illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It could also offer an alternative for veterans who might otherwise take so many prescriptions that it amounts to, what she called, “a dangerous brain cocktail.”

“One of my sons is a veteran. The last thing you want to do is put a lot more of what we call centrally acting drugs that affect brain chemistry. You don’t want to put that chemical IED in their head and see what happens,” she said.

Despite opposition from the Mississippi Board of Health, a number of medical professionals and groups back the ballot initiative, which includes strict regulations to prevent medical marijuana from being dispensed for any recreational purposes.

If voters adopted the initiative in its current form, patients would first have to obtain a medical marijuana identification card from the Mississippi State Department of Health, but would not be able to smoke it in a public place or operate a vehicle while using it.

In January 2019, a Millsaps-Chism survey found that 67% of Mississippians said they support legalizing medical marijuana.

Follow Ashton Pittman on Twitter @ashtonpittman and on Instagram @ashtoninms. Send feedback to [email protected] and tips to [email protected]. Follow Deep South Voice on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook @deepsouthvoice.