The good people of Mississippi will vote on whether the state should legalize medical marijuana when they head to the polls for the general election in November.
Activists gathered 214,000 signatures for a petition that would introduce the ballot measure and submitted it four months ago. That comfortably surpassed the 86,000 signatures needed to place a measure on the ballot.
The Secretary of State’s office has now finally confirmed that enough of the signatures are valid, meaning the vote will definitely take place.
A group called Mississippians for Compassionate Care devised the proposal, which is now known as Ballot Measure 65. It lists 22 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, including cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
If the vote goes in favour of introducing a legal medical marijuana industry, doctors would be able to prescribe marijuana for anyone suffering from those conditions. Patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day period.
Thirty-four out of 50 states have already legalized medical marijuana and activists in Mississippi have campaigned tirelessly for the same legal rights.
Yet the Mississippi State Board of Health has expressed its “strong opposition” to the measure. It argued that marijuana remains illegal at a federal level for both medical and recreational purposes, and said that there has not been enough research into its effectiveness or the side effects.
“The ballot initiative would require the Mississippi State Department of Health to oversee a medical marijuana program that is beyond the capacity of the Department and would seriously harm the function of the Agency,” it said.
It feels it should not have the power to set tax rates and spend money without legislative authorization or oversight. That represents a blow for campaigners, but the ballot will go ahead regardless.
Lawmakers now have four months to decide whether or not they endorse the ballot, although they cannot stop the vote from taking place. They have the option to amend it, and if they decide to do so, both the original and the amended version will be placed on the ballot for a public vote. If both are successful, the one that gains the most votes will triumph.
Gov. Phil Bryant has opposed medical marijuana, but polls suggest that the majority of voters are in favour of it, so lawmakers may be unable to derail legalization in 2020.