In these November 2020 elections, cannabis legalization initiatives will appear on the ballot papers of five states: Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota. Each Sunday through November 3, law Law Blog will publish a post that focuses on one of these state election initiatives and the current laws regarding cannabis in that state. We discussed the proposal on the Arizona ballot last Sunday. Today is the second post where we talk about Mississippi Election 1 known as the Medical Marijuana Initiative. Mississippians will vote on two versions of this initiative: Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A.
What are the current laws surrounding cannabis in Mississippi?
Cannabis, whether recreational or medicinal, is not currently legal in Mississippi. However, the state has to some extent decriminalized cannabis for personal use; The penalty for a first-time offense is more like a fine than a prison sentence. However, cannabis illegality in Mississippi disproportionately affects blacks, who are 2.7 times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges than whites in the state.
In addition, the passage of Harper's Grace Law by legislature in 2014 legalized the use of CBD oil for medicinal purposes by those with debilitating epileptic diseases. According to this law, CBD oil that is used by qualified individuals must be tested and strictly regulated. During a 2017 legislative period, the regulations were relaxed somewhat to allow the dispensing of CBD oil in more pharmacies and laboratories.
What is the election initiative for the upcoming elections?
The Mississippians will vote on two versions of the Medical Marijuana Initiative: Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A. Both versions of this initiative would enable patients with debilitating health conditions to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. The main difference between these two versions is that Initiative 65 sets rules and regulations for legalizing medical marijuana, while Alternative 65A would instead put state lawmakers in charge of setting those details. For example, if Initiative 65 is successful, patients with any of 20 qualified medical conditions can use cannabis for medicinal purposes and have up to 2.5 ounces at a time. In addition, Initiative 65 would impose a 7 percent tax on the sale of cannabis. Alternative 65A, on the other hand, does not specify which diseases would qualify the patients, how much cannabis these patients could own, when the medical cannabis program would start, what legal protection those involved in the program would have or how much cannabis would be taxed. Instead, these details would be determined by the State Congress after the initiative was approved.
Why are two different versions of the same initiative on the ballot? The Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign, the sponsors of the original version of Initiative 65, received enough citizen signatures for the initiative to be sent to state lawmakers under Mississippi state law. Alternative 65A was created when legislators voted to amend Initiative 65 in March 2020. When an initiative is submitted to the Mississippi state legislature, Congress can choose to accept, change, reject, or ignore the initiative. Regardless of what the legislature does, the initiative will appear on the ballot of the next election. However, if the legislature decides to change the initiative, both the amended and the original version of the initiative will appear on the ballot. Because of this, the Mississippians will vote on both Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A in the upcoming election. In particular, the support of the amended version of the initiative within the state parliament was extremely partisan: 89 percent of the Republicans agreed and 87 percent of the Democrats rejected.
How voting will work for the two versions of Initiative 65 is also somewhat complex. Voters must first decide whether to approve the “either” or “none” version of the initiative. Whichever option they choose, voters then have to choose their preferred version, initiative, or alternative. In order for one of the two versions of the initiative to come into force, more votes must first be cast for “either” than for “none”. If so, the version of the initiative that receives the majority of “preferred” votes will be put into effect, provided that at least 40 percent of voters support the initiative.
Perspectives for the adoption of Initiative 65 and Alternative Initiative 65A
Public opinion data on Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A are relatively rare. However, a survey conducted in May 2020 found that 75 percent of respondents would vote yes to both initiatives. The survey also found that the majority of respondents approved of the original initiative over the alternative, with 52 percent prefering Initiative 65 and the only 25 percent preferring Alternative 65A. Therefore, from the data available, it appears that the adoption of Initiative 65 (or at least its alternative) is likely, as the Mississippi public appears to broadly approve of the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.