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Law Mississippi


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Mississippi medical marijuana: Group nears signature goal for ballot 2020

Organizers of a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi say they have collected and certified more than two-thirds of the necessary signatures to put the issue before voters next year.

Jamie Grantham, a spokeswoman for Medical Marijuana 2020, said Monday the group must submit more than 86,000 to the Mississippi Secretary of State by a Sept. 6 deadline. She said the goal is to finish collecting enough signatures by the end of this month, so that there's time for a sufficient number to be certified by circuit clerks before the deadline.

Medical and recreational marijuana use remain illegal in Mississippi, unlike 33 states and Washington, D.C., which have some level of legalization law on the books.

A Mississippi task force is presently studying whether hemp should be grown in Mississippi. Hemp belongs to the same species as marijuana, but holds only trace amounts of the psychoactive compound, THC, that gets pot smokers high.

The Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign hopes to pass a initiative that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for certain medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and others. The group says the state Department of Health would regulate the program, including treatment centers that would sell the pot products.

The signatures must be evenly distributed from each of Mississippi's five historic congressional districts, as they appeared in 2000. If it all checks out, the question could go before Mississippi voters in the November 2020 election.

Grantham said the group has continued to hire signature gathering employees in recent months, and has been both knocking on doors and attending community events around the state.


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Medical Marijuana Will Likely Be On Mississippi’s 2020 Ballot Following Signature Submission

Mississippi voters will likely have the opportunity to vote on a measure to legalize medical marijuana after activists submitted more than the required number of signatures to qualify for the state’s 2020 ballot on Wednesday.

Though the signatures must still be verified by the secretary of state, Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC) said that after collecting more than 214,000 signatures, county clerks have already certified 105,686—which is about 20,000 signatures more than required to qualify.

“The medical marijuana petition, No. 65, was filed yesterday,” a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office told The Clarion Ledger. “At this time, we do not know whether the signature requirement has been fulfilled. We are in the process of reviewing and determining the number of signatures so as to file with the Legislature on the first day of of the 2020 session in accordance with (state law).”

In addition to reaching the statewide total target, advocates must also collect a minimum number of signatures from each of the state’s congressional districts in order for the proposal to qualify for ballot access.

MCC spokesperson Jamie Grantham said that the campaign saw “overwhelming support from the number of signatures we received.”

The proposed measure would let patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions access marijuana after consulting with a doctor and receiving a recommendation. There are 22 conditions—including cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder—that would qualify patients under the program.

Each patient would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day period.

Mississippi currently has a limited CBD program in place, but access is limited due to restrictions on who can provide the non-intoxicating oil.

Organizers behind the initiative point to polling showing that upwards of 77 percent of Mississippians support medical cannabis legalization. It does face opposition from Gov. Phil Bryant (R) and the Mississippi State Board of Health, however.



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"“With all the pharmaceutical advancements we have seen, it would seem strange to bring pot into the equation.”"

Oh yeah, just give them narcotics,

Mississippi Voters Will Decide Whether To Legalize Medical Marijuana

Mississippi became the latest state this week to add a medical marijuana question to its 2020 ballot.
Voters there will have the opportunity to decide on Ballot Initiative 65, which, if approved, will grant access to medical cannabis for patients suffering from various conditions like cancer and epilepsy.

Mississippians for Compassionate Care, the group that spearheaded the ballot initiative, announced the news Wednesday on its Facebook page, saying that the Secretary of State in Mississippi certified the signatures submitted.

The group submitted 105,686 signatures to the secretary of state’s office in September—easily exceeding the minimum of 86,185 signatures required by Mississippi law for an initiative to qualify for the ballot.

“We exceeded the requirement with overwhelming numbers in each of the districts totaling more than 105,000 certified signatures from Mississippi voters!” the group trumpeted in the Facebook post on Wednesday.

Should voters approve the initiative in November, Mississippi would join more than 30 other states that have already legalized medical marijuana. Voters in South Dakota will also have the opportunity to approve medical marijuana— as well as recreational pot —at the ballot this year.

Medical Marijuana in Mississippi
If Initiative 65 is approved by Mississippi voters, physicians in the state could start prescribing cannabis to patients suffering from a host of debilitating medical conditions: cancer, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, ALS, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, sickle-cell anemia, autism with aggressive or self-injurious behavior, and spinal cord injuries among others. Those patients would then obtain an identification card from the Mississippi Department of Health.

Activists in Mississippi spearheaded the petition drive in the fall of 2018; by February of last year, they had more than 45,000 signatures.
Mississippians for Compassionate Care have expressed confidence about their chances throughout the process, citing encouraging poll numbers.
Jamie Grantham, a spokeswoman for the group, said last month that she believes the initiative will pass if it goes before the voters.

“The polling is extremely positive,” Grantham said. “It polls above 77 percent, with every age group, religious affiliation, political affiliation and other groups. Also, to that point, we saw the overwhelming support from the number of signatures we received.”

But the initiative will face some heavy opposition, including from the state’s Republican governor, Phil Bryant, who said as early as 2018 that he would be opposing the proposal.

“I will be voting “no” if this makes it on the ballot,” Bryant said in a Facebook post at the time. “With all the pharmaceutical advancements we have seen, it would seem strange to bring pot into the equation.”


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Medical ‘pot’ advocacy groups cite big upsides in Mississippi plan

JACKSON • The wide-open nature of Medical Marijuana Campaign 2020’s model for a Mississippi medical marijuana sector gets a wrap-around hug from cannabis advocacy organizations and business groups.

“We like so far what we see out of Mississippi,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

That affection comes from staying clear of the cartel-like systems adopted in states such as Florida. NORML and groups like the National Cannabis Industry Association say the initiative’s emphasis on affordable licensing and otherwise easy entry by patients and businesses create a promising foundation on which to build a successful sector.

Florida and some other states mandate a vertical integration system by which dispensary companies must compete for a limited number of licenses and develop, grow, transport and sell the product.

Shunning that sort of set up is a smart move for Medical Marijuana Campaign 2020’s effort to make the Magnolia State the 34th state to enact medical marijuana, Altieri said.

“They seem to be trying to make marijuana accessible to those who need it,” he said.

Central to the effort is what is missing from it – caps on licenses. Equally central is a pledge to keep license fees affordable.

“This allows for a free market approach,” said Jamie Grantham, executive director of the group heading the ballot effort, Mississippians for Compassionate Care.

“We looked at what is working well” in other medical marijuana states, she said in an interview.

“Free market” has shown a lot of promise in Oklahoma since voters approved medical cannabis in June 2018. By last October, the state of 4 million people had 200,000 patients authorized by their physicians to have medical cannabis, a participation rate that puts it near the top among the 33 states that have some form of medical cannabis legislation in place.

NORML’s Altieri called Oklahoma “a good success story on the access front” and credited its “very open” uncapped licensing process.

Likewise, Morgan Fox at the National Cannabis Industry Association credits the popularity of Oklahoma’s medial cannabis program to an ease-of-market-entry that gets dispensaries closer to patients.

“We’re against barriers to the industry,” said Fox, spokesman for the cannabis industry group, in an interview.

Barriers typically are income tests and capital thresholds and the like, Fox said. In Oklahoma, $2,500 gets a cannabis dispensary license. “Oklahoma and its $2,500 fee are a good place to look” for market accessibility, he noted.

Limited licensing typically means those “with the most money have the best chances of getting the licenses,” Fox said.

In October, a broker in Atlanta put two Florida medical marijuana licenses on sale for a combined $95 million, with one for $40 million and the other for $55 million.
The goal, Fox said, should be creating “a robust cannabis base without lawmakers getting in the way between the patients and their doctor.”

Mississippi Department of Health officials and members of the governing board would decide how much decision making is left to doctors and patients. And the deciders are not likely to be enthusiastic about treating patients with marijuana, having approved a resolution opposing Campaign 2020 that cites public health and safety concerns.

If voters approve Initiative No. 65 – the result of a petition drive that gained more than 200,000 signatures – the Department of Health and its board will be working from a seven-page document authorizing Mississippi doctors to treat patients with debilitating conditions.

These are illnesses such as “cancer, epilepsy or other seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cachexia, post-traumatic stress disorder, for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, chronic or debilitating pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, glaucoma, agitation of dementias, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, sickle-cell anemia, autism with aggressive or self-injurious behaviors, pain refractory to appropriate opioid management, spinal cord disease or severe injury, intractable nausea or severe muscle spasticity.

A key part of the measure, said Campaign 2020’s Grantham, is a provision allowing doctors to authorize cannabis for conditions of a “similar kind or class” to the nearly two dozen designated in the initiative.

The Department of Health and its board will nonetheless have huge sway on what medical marijuana looks like in Mississippi, said business lawyer Whitt Steineker, co-chair of the Cannabis Industry team at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Birmingham.

“What Mississippi is going to do is leave a lot of discretion to the Department of Health,” Steineker said in an interview.

Expect Mississippi officials, he said, to block and divert wherever they can, including the likelihood legislators will introduce a more restrictive ballot measure of their own.

“No doubt about it that the opposition from many in power in state government in Mississippi presents a challenge to implementing this, if it passes,” Steineker said.

Even with passage, expect everyone from local zoning boards to state law enforcement “to drag their feet” on Initiative No. 65, he predicted.

But he doesn’t expect the local and state authorities to actually fully block a new law. “They will get nitpicky on technicities,” he said.

Should they refuse to apply the law, “I don’t think the courts would take to that very well,” Steineker added.

However, if the Nov. 3 voting outcome is similar to the 70 percent or more of state voters who favor medical marijuana, state officials may be less prone to setting up barriers to legal cannabis treatments, Steineker predicted.

State and local officials also would have the measure itself to deal with. It specifies that local municipalities “shall not impair the availability of and reasonable access to medical marijuana.” The proposal further mandates that state officials begin providing licenses for retailers no later than August 15, 2021.

Nothing in the proposed amendment alters rules on drugs in the workplace, according to Steineker. “If you have a drug-free workplace you can continue that,” he said.

Further, Mississippi businesses won’t have to worry about costs of their company-provided health insurance going up to cover workers who are cannabis patients. As long as marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug banned under the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, insurers won’t cover it.

With the United States having nearly 40 states with either adult-use legal marijuana or medical marijuana, lawyers like Steineker are spending ever larger parts of their workdays advising businesses on cannabis commerce. It’s unsettled terrain for banks, real estate firms, equipment companies and others wanting to venture into the emerging sector, he noted.

“I try not to go around telling people to go get a lawyer,” Steineker said, but added: “This is one you really want to take counsel on. Get a good adviser with legal experience.”

Count U.S. pharmacy owners and operators among business people who want into the sector. But their attorneys advise against entering the sector as long as federal prohibitions remain.

“Pharmacists are uniquely qualified to help patients safely adhere to their prescribed marijuana regimen,” the American Community Pharmacists Association said in a recent one-page advisory to members.

Still, under federal law, no individuals, including pharmacists, can legally dispense medical marijuana, even in those states that have passed medical marijuana legislation, said the American Community Pharmacists Association, or ACPA.

First, pharmacy businesses likely will find it difficult to find banks willing to buck federal restrictions, the ACPA said.

Further, contracts with wholesalers, third-party payers, and other business entities often have clauses prohibiting the contracting pharmacy from violating federal laws, the ACPA noted.

“The decision to offer medical marijuana services can lead to unintended consequences for pharmacists and their businesses,” the Association warned.

Pharmacy advocates, it said, should aim for state legislation that “preserves the ability of pharmacists legally to dispense medical marijuana should federal prohibitions be overturned, but which does not place the pharmacist or pharmacy in a position of legal or contractual jeopardy in the meantime.”

Supporters estimate Mississippi would initially have about 14,000 cannabis patients. It’s difficult to tell what sort of economic effect that sort of patient count would have.

“There is always an economic impact,” said Darrin Webb, state economist, in an email. “Quantifying that potential impact is the challenge. With medical marijuana, we would face a great many unknowns including possible negative impacts.”

One provision likely to have at least some economic impact: All of the product sold to Mississippi cannabis patients must be grown, produced and sold in the state, said Grantham, the Medical Marijuana Campaign 2020 head.

“This would certainly open up a new industry,” she said.


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Mississippi State Leaders Urge Voters To Consider Medical Marijuana Proposals Carefully

The effort to bring medical cannabis to Mississippi is not without challengers.

State leaders in Mississippi are urging voters to carefully consider two medical marijuana measures on the November ballot, characterizing the less restrictive of the two proposals as dangerous. Republican state Rep. Jill Ford, Ed Langton, the chairman of the Mississippi Board of Health, and Madison County Sheriff Randy Tucker said that Initiative 65, which was placed on the general election ballot via a citizen petition, would lead to an increase in drug abuse and allow cannabis dispensaries to open near schools and churches.

If passed, Initiative 65 would amend the state constitution to allow doctors to recommend cannabis as a treatment for patients with one or more of 20 qualifying serious medical conditions. The state health department would issue identification cards to patients that would allow them to obtain up to five ounces of cannabis from a licensed treatment center per month. Medical marijuana sales would be taxed at the standard sales tax rate of 7%.

‘Overburdened’ Sheriff Offers Weak Excuse To Continue Prohibition
At a Monday press briefing, Tucker maintained that legalizing medical marijuana would somehow impose a greater burden on law enforcement than prohibition.

“Law enforcement is overburdened already. I can promise you, we are pushed to the limit with the manpower, resources, and the backing of the law as it is. We are fixed to open Pandora’s box,” he said, adding that he believes that there is no such thing as medical marijuana.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and protecting this very community for that number of years, and I have yet to see anybody put one piece of evidence scientifically or medically in my face that says it is a medically approved drug,” Tucker said.

Langton said that there has not been enough research to prove that cannabis can be used medicinally safely.

“To call it medical marijuana, medical ice cream, whatever you put the word medical before, it doesn’t necessarily make it medical unless it is truly a medical product,” he said.

Instead of approving Initiative 65, the three state leaders said that medical marijuana supporters should vote for Alternative 65A, a more restrictive measure put on the ballot by the Mississippi legislature in response to Initiative 65. The proposal would only allow terminal patients to use cannabis flower, while those with other illnesses would be permitted access to cannabis oils and other formulations. Short on details, 65A would allow the legislature to enact possession limits, tax rates, and other regulations to implement the measure.

Cannabis Activists Deem Alternate Measure ‘Inadequate’
But Jamie Grantham of Mississippians for Compassionate Care, the group campaigning for Initiative 65, said that the legislature has rejected more than 20 bills that would have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis and that the alternate measure is an attempt by lawmakers “to confuse voters and deny them a fair up or down vote.”

“The language of Alternative 65A is inadequate and fails to include basic components necessary to establish a medical marijuana program that will help patients – it does not specify any framework for a functioning medical marijuana program, a timeline for implementation, a specific list of qualifying medical conditions, nor does it even provide constitutional protections for patients, caregivers, or doctors,” Grantham said on Monday.

Mississippi voters will see both Initiative 65 and Alternate 65A on the ballot when they go to the polls for the general election on November 3.


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Mississippi farmers can start applying for hemp license

The Daily Leader reports the license application period began Saturday and runs through Oct. 31 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Industrial hemp has been promoted as a new cash crop for struggling farmers.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis plant family but contains only traces of the THC chemical compound that causes a high for marijuana users. Hemp is used for textiles, fuels, clothing, body lotion, paper, rope and chemical absorbents, among other products.

Congress paved the way for state hemp programs in the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed industrial hemp from the list of federally controlled substances.

The new Mississippi law legalized the cultivation of hemp and allowed Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson to create a state plan for hemp farming. But state lawmakers didn't appropriate money for a state hemp program, so Gipson said he asked the USDA to issue the licenses for Mississippi hemp growers.


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Mississippi: Legislative inaction on medical marijuana leaves some voters with tough choice

Approval of medical marijuana on Nov. 3 by Mississippi voters, based at least on polling, seems like a lead-pipe cinch.
A poll conducted by Millsaps College and Mississippi-based Chism Strategies in 2019 placed support for legalizing medical marijuana at 67% to 27%. In today’s polarized society, it’s difficult to find that level of support for many issues.
Yet some voters, who support the use of marijuana for medical purposes, might have second thoughts on approving the issue at the ballot box.
There will be two medical marijuana proposals on the ballot this November: a citizen-sponsored initiative, and an alternative approved by legislators.
Legislators placed the alternative on the ballot because they argued the citizen-sponsored initiative is too lax, allowing easy access to marijuana. Others would argue the legislators’ proposal is too restrictive and is being placed on the ballot just to confuse voters and guarantee the defeat of both.
Depending on a person’s perspective, both of those arguments have merit. But there is another argument that upon first glance might be considered academic, but in reality creates real world consequences.
If either of the proposals prevail on the Nov. 3 ballot, medical marijuana will be incorporated into the Mississippi Constitution. Never mind the legitimate argument that the Constitution should address major issues, such as our rights and freedoms, and instead focus on the fact that once something gets in the Constitution it is difficult to change or remove.
The only two ways to amend the Mississippi Constitution are by completing the difficult task of gathering the roughly 100,000 signatures of registered voters to place an initiative on the ballot, or by the Legislature approving a proposal by a two-thirds vote of both chambers and then that proposal being approved by voters.

Regardless of a person’s views on medical marijuana, science or other factors might result in a need to make changes related to the issue years from now to make it more or less accessible. If it is enshrined in the Constitution, it would be much more difficult to make those changes.
That is why, in part, that other drugs are not addressed in the Constitution. They are incorporated into general laws that can be changed through simple majority votes of both legislative chambers and by the governor’s signature.
Since June 30, there has been a proposal pending before the Mississippi Senate to pass a general bill to legalize medical marijuana. Because of the late date at which the proposal was introduced, it would take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to pass the proposal.
But if passed, it would be in general law just like other drugs, and like alcohol and tobacco products. Changes could be made to the general law much easier than changes can be made to the Constitution.
Senate Pro Tem Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, who chairs the Rules Committee where the legislation originated, said he has opted not to bring it up for a vote because a consensus has not been developed on whether it could pass.
While the Legislature can reconvene between now and Oct. 5, Kirby said, “I don’t think it is going to come up, but things change up here. I don’t know for sure, but at this point if I was betting, I would say it will not come up.”
The thought when the legislation was filed is that if a bill was passed to approve medical marijuana in general law, there would be less of a chance voters would approve one of the constitutional proposals on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Kirby said having the resolution pending before the Senate could be seen as giving voters confidence that if one of those proposals is not approved, there is a strong chance it will be taken up by the Legislature in the 2021 session.
Another perhaps more realistic view is if medical marijuana is rejected at the ballot box this November, legislators could likely be hesitant to come back behind the voters to approve such a proposal.
Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House minority leader, said he understands the arguments against placing marijuana in the Constitution and agrees with them, but to him those arguments are still not persuadable.
He said he supports the decriminalization of marijuana because “it has provided a vehicle for people to be locked up more than they should be,” and approving medical marijuana is “a first step.”
The Legislature has had years to act on legalizing medical marijuana as support has grown, “and we didn’t, so this is where we find ourselves,” Johnson said.
In effect, the choice is placing medical marijuana in the Constitution, or it very likely not being approved for years to come.
That choice could be a tough one for many voters.


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Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Has ‘Strong Chance Of Passage,’ Poll Shows

An activist-led medical marijuana initiative in Mississippi “stands a strong chance of passage” during the November election, according to a newly released poll that shows widespread bipartisan support for the policy change. And voters showed a significant preference for the campaign’s measure over a more restrictive, legislature-passed alternative that will appear alongside it on the ballot.

In general, 81 percent of respondents said they favor “allowing patients with medical conditions and serious illnesses to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it,” regardless about how they feel about the specific measure.

The support is bipartisan, with 89 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of independents backing the proposal.


But importantly for the Mississippians for Compassionate Care campaign, the survey also shows that their initiative is significantly more popular than a competing medical cannabis alternative that was placed on the ballot through the legislature after the activist-driven measure qualified. Advocates suspect that lawmakers pursued their more limited version in an effort to confuse voters, splitting the vote and undermining their chances of passing.

Seventy-five percent of people in the poll said they would vote for either cannabis question on the ballot.

When both measures were described to respondents and they were asked to choose between them, however, 52 percent said they’d vote for the campaign’s version while only 23 percent picked the legislature-approved initiative.


When read pros and cons arguments, support for the activists’ measure jumped 11 percentage points to 63 percent and support for the alternative declined by five percentage points.


“In summary, INITIATIVE 65 stands a strong chance of passage in November 2020 in Mississippi,” a polling memo from FM3 Research, which conducted the survey, states. “There is substantial support for medical marijuana in principle, and voters clearly distinguish between INITIATIVE 65 and Alternative 65A.”

The memo does not include information about how the two ballot measures were described to voters, however. The poll involved 602 online and telephone interviews with likely Mississippi voters from May 24-31.

Initiative 65 would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve similarly posed a threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.


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Wow... this could go under horrible and atrocious news...


Because of Mississippi’s habitual offender laws, a mother of four is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana.

That is the story of Tameka Drummer, who was regularly cited during attempts at reigning in Mississippi’s habitual offender laws during the past legislative session. Now, there is a new Change.org petition calling for her pardon.

In 2008, Drummer was sentenced to life in prison. She was driving without a car tag in Alcorn county, she was pulled over, and the police then searched her car and they found less than two ounces of marijuana. She actually had the tag in her back seat.

But because of this, her youngest child who was just four years old at the time has grown up without a mother. She has now served 12 years of her life sentence.

Why did Drummer receive such an oppressive sentence?

Because of the state’s habitual offender laws that were written to enforce long, and even draconian, sentences on individuals who have prior convictions. The law works in different ways, but in Drummer’s case, she was previously convicted of a violent crime, a drug charge, and then, finally, the marijuana charge that landed her life without parole.

In the case of Drummer, she paid her debt to society with her past convictions, which is generally what we ask of prisoners. And each time she was convicted, the punishment got more serious while the charges against her tended to get less serious, not more serious. She went from a violent crime at 15 years old to marijuana possession, something that is legal or decriminalized in nearly half the states.

What has this meant to the state’s criminal justice system? A November 2019 analysis found that over 2,600 people have been incarcerated under these statutes. This includes 906 people serving 20 years or more in prison, and 439 people serving life sentences. There are 78 people who are serving life sentences for drug charges alone.

Taxpayers are spending about $20,000 per year to house Drummer. By the time Drummer is 70, taxpayers would have spent $700,000 on someone who is in prison for less than two ounces of marijuana. Is that a good use of taxpayer money?

Even after a series of criminal justice reforms, Mississippi continues to have the third highest incarceration rate in the world, more than all but two other states and every other industrialized country. At the same time, our state continues to fall behind economically, with a workforce participation rate that is growing at a slower pace than most other states. And more children grow up with just one parent in Mississippi than any other state in the country. This is all related.

Multiple bills that would have impacted habitual offender laws did not make it past the finish line this session and another bill that would have reformed parole for up to 2,000 prisoners was vetoed by Gov. Tate Reeves last month.

That shouldn’t be the last word. We know much needs to be done.

To help Drummer and others in a similar situation and to combat the state’s stubbornly high incarceration rate and the ever-growing cost to taxpayers, the state should continue to look for measures that reform parole and eliminate the state’s mandatory minimum habitual sentencing structure that imposes disproportionately long prison sentences on individuals, even for minor crimes.

At the end of the day, we are not safer because Drummer is in prison for the rest of her life, her children are not better off by being raised by someone other than their mother, and taxpayer money could certainly be better invested in something else.


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Mississippi Medical Marijuana Ballot Language Threatens To Confuse Voters With Two Questions

Medical marijuana is on the ballot in Mississippi. The problem for advocates, however, is that the way the ballot is constructed could make the issue seriously confusing to voters.

That’s by design, Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), told Marijuana Moment.

Shortly after the campaign officially qualified their initiative for the ballot, lawmakers approved legislation to place an alternate legalization measure before voters. Advocates say the competing ballot question is deliberately vague and could lead to a significantly more limited cannabis system if it passed over the activist-led proposal.

The result of the inclusion of an alternative is a convoluted ballot that requires voters to answer a two-step set of questions on cannabis: first, they must fill out a bubble to “vote for approval of either, or against both” measures. Then they’re prompted to “vote for one” and given the choice of the activist-driven Initiative 65 and lawmakers’ alternative measure 65A.

Immediately, there’s a logistical question. For those who voted against approving either, the use of the word “and” in the next question might lead some to think they have to select one. And if they did make a selection despite their opposition, it’s unclear whether those votes would still be counted. Alternatively, some voters who are trying to fill out their ballots quickly may skip the first question and go right to filling out the bubble for Measure 65 and then have their support discounted.

The difference in language preceding the legalization options could also cause problems. Both measures were analyzed by the state’s Legislative Budget Office, and because the activist campaign’s is more detailed, officials were able to come up with estimated costs and revenue. A big block of text goes over those numbers prior to the question itself, with costs getting more prominent billing than revenue. In the first year of implementation, the measure will cost more than it will bring in—a possible roadblock to supporting the measure for some voters—though in subsequent years there’s anticipated to be a $10.6 million annual net gain.

But for the legislature’s alternative, the analysts simply said the “cost or revenue impact associated with this initiative is undeterminable.”


While it’s possible some voters might be inclined to choose the ostensibly simpler version, MCC’s Grantham sees it differently. In a state that strongly conservative, voters care about the financial impact of reform—and she says the lack of an analysis for the alternative will demonstrate to residents that it’s an unserious proposal.

But Grantham recognizes that the ballot isn’t the straightforward “yes/no” on the activist-driven initiative that they’d hoped for.

“That’s been our concern the entire time,” she told Marijuana Moment. “That’s really the whole point with the legislature putting 65A on the ballot is that they’ve never put forth a program legislatively. They’ve blocked more than 20 proposed bills over the last few decades to do so legislatively. And then as soon as Initiative 65 qualifies, the put 65A on the ballot in order to confuse voters and dilute the vote so that neither measure meet the required amount of votes to pass.”

The ballot initiative law allowing for an alternative is “a backdoor for the legislature” to undermine the will of the voters and shut down reform they disagree with, she argued. “These are just people that don’t want medical marijuana. None of their arguments have any foundation, they really don’t.”

Matthew Schwiech, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the ballot “reflects our expectations, and it’s going to be very important for the campaign to explain the process to voters and to make the case for Initiative 65.”

He also agreed with Grantham about the fiscal language, stating that “when a voter reads the fiscal analysis, it will be fairly easy to understand. I think it’s written in a way that avoids technical jargon. And I think that it is an advantage to give clarity to voters on the fiscal impact.”

To combat any potential confusions for voters when they head to the polls, MCC is stepping up educational outreach, with activists traveling throughout the state to talk about the need for the policy change and how to navigate the ballot. They’re also sharing information across social media, including a comparison chart breaking down the differences between the versions.


But with only weeks left until the November election, time is of the essence if the campaign hopes to make it clear to voters across the state how to fill out the jumbled ballot.

Schweich said he’s not especially concerned about potential voter drop out due to confusion over the ballot language and setup.

“Ballot drop off is impacted by a number of factors. The length of the ballot overall, the placement of the ballot question itself and the familiarity that voters have with ballot initiatives—some states have ballot initiatives often, some states, it’s less frequent. So it’s difficult to say what the drop off might be in Mississippi,” he said. “I will say that, looking at the ballot, there’s only two pages of candidates and then you get straight to the initiatives. I think the layout with the three measures is fairly clear.”

“What this really comes down to is the campaign explaining that you just have to vote for approval and then you have to vote for 65,” he said.

What the campaign has on its side, at least, is clear voter support based on recent polling. Eighty-one percent of respondents said in a recently released poll that they support medical cannabis legalization generally, and the activist-led initiative is significantly more popular than the competing alternative.

If the campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve similarly posed a threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

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