On November 3, Mississippi voters will decide on two measures, Initiative 65 and 65A, both related to medical cannabis. This week, state residents heard from both sides of the debate during an educational hearing hosted by the Secretary of State’s office at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.
The two-hour hearing was held with in-person attendees following COVID-19 protocols.
Initiative 65A, presented by lawmakers, would restrict legal medical cannabis access to only terminally ill patients, whereas the grassroots effort, Initiative 65, would allow medical cannabis patients, with one of more than twenty qualifying conditions, who register with the Department of Health and are issued an identification card to purchase medical cannabis at a licensed entity. Initiative 65 would also tax medical cannabis sales at the broader current sales tax rate of 7%, and allow the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis.
“I do hope that we learn something from each other, a little bit about the issues, as we move through this process,” Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson said at the start of the final hearing before the election.
The educational hearing included presentations for and against the measures, with public comment at the end. Medical cannabis advocate Angie Calhoun began by sharing her perspective “as a Southern Baptist mother who supports medical marijuana.” Calhoun described her son Austin’s experiences as he developed debilitating medical conditions, like seizures, joint pain, and severe vomiting at the age of 17.
“God doesn’t always do what we want and when we want it. But he did show us the path to restoring Austin’s health and quality of life through medical marijuana. After much prayer and careful consideration, Austin, at the age of 19, made the decision to move to a state with a legal and regulated medical marijuana program,” Calhoun said, describing how her son became a “refugee” because Mississippi lawmakers hadn’t passed a medical cannabis bill.
“I remember thinking to myself after he had used medical marijuana, ‘this seems like my son, my happy, vibrant son, again.’ And that was truly a blessing,” Calhoun said.
Jim Perry, a member of the Mississippi State Board of Health, referenced the cigarette industry, and how some boasted about health benefits, and even marketed to children and those who were pregnant.
“Nowhere in our state constitution is there another example of any product having the constitutional protections Initiative 65 gives to the marijuana industry. There’s a reason for that. As we learn more about the risks and benefits of any product, it’s common for the state legislature to make changes to laws regularly,” Perry said, adding that if Initiative 65 passes, lawmakers won’t be able to make “substantive changes” to the Mississippi’s medical cannabis program unless we have another constitutional amendment, which requires another statewide vote. Perry also said that Initiative 65 proposes lower fees than other statewide programs.
“In reality, the low fees, much lower than most tobacco and alcohol industries pay, are a sweetheart deal for the marijuana industry,” Perry said.
A recent poll suggests that the majority of Mississippi residents support the effort to legalize medical cannabis, though some fear that voters might be confused by seeing two initiatives.
Jamie Grantham, the communications director for the Medical Marijuana 2020 Campaign for Initiative 65, said that’s by design, and also highlighted that medical cannabis has been brought before lawmakers “more than twenty times.”
“When they put 65A to be on the ballot, they robbed the voters a fair up or down vote in an effort to split the votes so that neither measure makes that required threshold to pass,” Grantham said.