Be Informed: November 2020 Medical Marijuana Initiatives

By:  Donnie Scoggin, Representative, District 89

 

As voters in Mississippi go to the polls in November, they will be faced with a unique decision ahead of them, which is whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.  Many questions have been raised about the difference between Initiative 65 and 65A, which are the two versions of a medical marijuana amendment that will be on the ballot.  I will attempt, to the best of my knowledge, to provide some clarity regarding these two initiatives and how the ballot is set up for voting on this issue.    

First of all, Initiative 65 was an indirect initiated constitutional amendment, meaning that the required number of signatures from Mississippians were obtained and the process was followed to allow for the Initiative to appear on the ballot.  Initiative 65A was referred to the ballot alongside Initiative 65 as an alternative measure by the state legislature.

One important thing to consider as you make your decision which initiative to vote for is that Initiative 65 changes our state constitution by inserting marijuana permanently in our State Constitution. The Constitution rarely changes and is beyond the reach of the governor and legislature to regulate. In other words, it will take another statewide referendum to fix any oversights or make any needed changes in Initiative 65.  Making changes for future regulation would be extremely difficult.  

I want you to be aware of how the ballot will present choices for voting, as many have verbalized confusion over this.  There will be TWO parts that you will need to vote on.  The first part asks you to determine if you are in favor of one of the initiatives passing that would legalize marijuana or if you are against the legalization of marijuana.  

Part/Question 1: This is voting in favor or against medical marijuana

  • Voting for the top option, which is voting in favor of “either measure”, indicates that you are desiring to see one of two initiatives (either Initiative 65 or Alternative 65A) to pass, thereby allowing the use of medical marijuana by qualified patients. 
  • Voting for the bottom option, which is voting “against both” measures (against the legalization of medical marijuana) indicates that you desire that neither Initiative 65 nor Alternative 65A would pass.  EVEN IF YOU VOTE THIS OPTION, which is against the legalization of medical marijuana, it is very important that you still answer the next question because in the event that the first option for “Either” gets the most votes, you need to say which Initiative (65 or 65A) should pass.   

Part/Question 2:  This is where you choose between Initiative 65 or Alternative 65A (Regardless of how you voted on the first question)

Please Note:  If you voted in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana (“either” option on top), you must answer this second question in order for your ballot to be valid.  However, if you voted against medical marijuana (“against both” option on the bottom), it is important for you to answer this second question in case the first part (“either option) passes, BUT, it is not required for your vote on the first question to be valid.  

  • Initiative 65 was created out of the work of the Medical Marijuana 2020 (MM2020) campaign.  Voting for Initiative 65 supports approving the medical marijuana amendment to the Mississippi constitution, which would allow medical marijuana treatment for more than 20 specified qualifying conditions and would allow individuals to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana at one time.  Under this initiative, the state will not receive any sales tax nor any revenue from the sale of marijuana.  (Additional details outlined below) 
  • Initiative 65A is the initiative created by the Mississippi State Legislature and is an alternative medical marijuana amendment.  Voting for Initiative 65A would allow oral marijuana use for qualified conditions.  The smoking of marijuana would be limited to terminally ill patients.  Initiative 65A would require pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products and treatment oversight by licensed physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, and would leave tax rates, possession limits, and certain other details to be set by the legislature. (Additional details outlined below.)

If there are more votes for “either” than for “against both” in the first question, the version of the initiative (65 or 65A) that receives majority approval in the second question will be the one that is enacted, provided it received at least 40% of the total ballots that were cast at the election.  That is why this second part should be voted on, even if you are not in favor of either Initiative.  

If you are against medical marijuana, but would want more regulation of the industry should it pass, you would vote “Against both” on the first question and for 65A on the second question.  

Important Notes For Your Information: 

  • The Mississippi State Department of Health has communicated that the department is NOT supportive of Initiative 65, citing several concerns. 
  • The Mississippi State Board of Health passed a resolution stating it is strongly opposed to Initiative 65. The board argued that the measure would allow “a very broad number of medical indications including such vague reasons as pain management,” and that “there would be no ability to restrict the mechanisms of consumption.” The board also said the measure “would assign responsibilities to the Mississippi State Department of Health far beyond the scope and mission of the agency, including oversight of agricultural production of marijuana, oversight of marijuana product processing, and tax collection.” 
  • To date, the FDA has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition. The agency has, however, approved one cannabis-derived drug product: Epidiolex (cannabidiol), and three synthetic cannabis-related drug products.

A few key components were pulled from each of the initiatives for your consideration and are as follows:  

 

 

Initiative 65:  

    • The rules and regulations may include a fee of up to Fifty Dollars ($50.00) for issuing an identification card that is valid for no more than 12 months
    • Fees will be assessed for licensing medical marijuana treatment centers, which shall be fixed by and paid to the Mississippi Department of Health.  
    • The Mississippi Department of Health may assess up to 7% fee (or the amount that is the equivalent to our sales tax at any given time) to the final sale of medical marijuana. (For clarity purposes, the money from this fee would go into a special fund instead of into the state’s general fund, meaning that the marijuana industry will not pay any sales taxes and the state’s General Fund will never receive any of the monies generated by fees or the sale of the medical marijuana.  No money from the sale of the medical marijuana will be made available for use for education/schools, roads, or cities.  The marijuana industry would be making a profit, but the fees and charges generated would only be available to support the marijuana program. None of the revenue would be made available to support the state, communities or public health efforts.
    • The fees identified are to pay for the cost that the Mississippi Department of Health incurs for the implementation and enforcement of the program.  Although there will be a special fund in the state treasury for these monies, no prior appropriation or authorization will be needed to access and utilize these funds.  
    • Medical marijuana treatment centers cannot be within 500 feet of churches, schools, and daycares. (The sale of liquor requires a minimum of 1500 feet from churches, schools, and daycares.)  Other zoning restrictions are to be no more restrictive than other commercial or industrial businesses.  As a constitutional amendment, the county and cities will not be able to have special zoning laws to regulate where marijuana is grown or sold. The towns and cities will not have the option to prevent the sale of marijuana.  
    • The rules and regulations by the MS Dept. of Health cannot limit the number of licensed medical marijuana treatment centers nor set the price of medical marijuana. 
    • Requires the State Treasury, upon request, to loan state money in an amount not to exceed Two Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($2,500,000) to implement the program.
    • Designed to make medical marijuana available to Mississippians with a debilitating medical condition, listing over 20 qualifying diagnosis, including chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy, and ALS.  In addition, it allows for any other medical condition of the same kind or class of those listed to be allowed if a physician believes the benefits of using medical marijuana would reasonably outweigh potential health risks.
    • It will be unlawful for any individual to smoke medical marijuana in a public place. 
  • Requires “any health insurance provider or any government agency or authority to reimburse any person for expenses related to the use of medical marijuana”. 
  • Creates the position of caregivers who can assist disabled and homebound patients, as well as minors with qualifying medical conditions to receive the medical  marijuana. 
  • Amount of marijuana allowed for a qualifying individual is 2.5 oz. every 14 days, which is reportedly the median average of the other 34 states with medical marijuana programs.  This also equates to about 8-10 joints per day or 250 -300 joints per month.  

Initiative 65A:  

  • This constitutional amendment is being proposed as a legislative alternative measure to Initiative Measure No. 65 which would establish a program to allow the medical use of marijuana products by qualified persons with debilitating medical conditions.
  • Alternative 65A would require the medical marijuana program to “be based on sound medical principles” and be designed and run by a state agency using input from health professionals in designing the program. 
  • To help ensure safety, marijuana products for use by the qualified individuals would need to be produced by state-licensed manufacturers and be pharmaceutical grade products. 
  • Marijuana would be available to qualified individuals with debilitating medical conditions that have been certified by licensed health practitioners.
  • There will be categories of marijuana preparations available for oral administration that are deemed suitable and meet quality standards for qualified individuals.
  • The smoking of marijuana products will be restricted to qualified individuals with terminal medical conditions as certified by a healthcare professional. 
  • Oversight of treatment would be by licensed physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. 
  • A registry of enrolled patients would be required to allow a process for patient tracking and assessment of treatment outcomes.
  • The number of state-licensed manufacturers for these marijuana products will be limited.
  • The program will include reporting requirements for research, analysis, and outcomes assessment.  
  • Tax rates, possession limits, and certain other details would be set by the legislature.  

A SAMPLE Official Election Ballot for Mississippi that includes the ballot wording for the Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A vote can be found on the Secretary of State’s website at:  https://www.sos.ms.gov/content/documents/elections/FINAL%202020%20Sample%20GE%20Ballot%20with%20Flag.pdf

Thank you for carefully considering this issue.  Please remember to vote on November 3, 2020 and let your voice be heard.  

Donnie Scoggin, Representative, District 89