Mississippi voters face medical marijuana decision on Election Day

Updated: Oct. 28, 2020 at 4:49 PM CDT
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DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - Voters in Arkansas legalized medical marijuana in 2016, and four years later Mississippi could be next.

Voters in the Magnolia State will decide next Tuesday whether to give the green light to medical marijuana sales. There are two different medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot for voters to consider.

Wednesday morning DeSoto County law enforcement and elected officials said they are against both of them.

“I’m opposed to both of them. I don’t think we need legal marijuana to be sold in the state of Mississippi,” said DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco. “There are other drugs out there that doctors can recommend other than marijuana.”

Rasco, Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer and other members of the community urged residents to vote no on medical marijuana on Election Day.

“None of us want to see a friend or loved one suffer unnecessary pain," said Latimer. “They’re using our sense of compassion as a means for them to become legalized drug dealers.”

A signature drive by Mississippians for Compassionate Care got Initiative 65 on the ballot. A competing Initiative 65A was then placed on the ballot by state lawmakers.

Voters will be asked to cast one vote to approve either initiative or vote both down. They’ll then be asked which initiative they support if the first question passes.

Initiative 65 stipulates the program would be run by the Mississippi Department of Health, with regulations set by July 2021, and medical marijuana ID cards available to patients with nearly two dozen debilitating conditions by August 2021.

Initiative 65A limits smoking marijuana to only those terminally ill and sets no timeline for a program’s implementation or agency to oversee it. Initiative 65A would cap the number of licenses for marijuana distributors and leaves creation of the program to lawmakers.

“Initiative 65 is a conservative program. And it would actually produce a program. There is a start date. There is a list of medical conditions. It puts the decisions in the hands of patients and their physicians, not the politicians,” said Jamie Grantham, with Mississippians for Compassionate Care.

DeSoto County leaders insist Initiative 65 is too broad, as local communities could not regulate the number of dispensaries, and facilities must be at least 500 feet from churches or schools. Additionally, the marijuana would not be taxed.

“It’s not medical marijuana. It’s a sham,” said Justin Smith, Chief Deputy at the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office. “There is absolutely no public benefit to this outside of people being able to sell marijuana legally."

Grantham said under Initiative 65 users could pay a fee to make the program self-sustaining and not reliant on taxpayer dollars.

“Mississippi does not tax prescription medications,” she said. “65 was written to honor that as well. There is no reason to tax a sick cancer patient on medical marijuana in order to fix a pothole.”

The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police said more than 300 police chiefs have voiced opposition to both Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A. But if voters approve medical marijuana they support initiative 65A.

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