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Salter: State Voters May Face a Different Kind of Marijuana Legalization Effort in 2020

As of this year, nine states and the District of Columbia – including Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington – have legalized the possession and recreational use of marijuana. Those same nine states plus 22 more have legalized the use of medical marijuana – including Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana – in variable amounts under variable conditions.

Other states, like Alabama and Mississippi, have laws on the books permitting the use of medical marijuana for severe epileptic conditions, but the drug remains practically and legally unobtainable due to red tape, conflicting state and federal laws, and an abundance of caution from healthcare professionals and law enforcement agencies.

But conservative Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed Mississippi’s very narrow current medical marijuana bill into law in 2014, one that drew support from some of the state’s most conservative lawmakers. In signing the law, Bryant told Jackson TV station WAPT:

“The bill I signed into law will help children who suffer from severe seizure disorders. Throughout the legislative process, I insisted on the tightest controls and regulations for this measure, and I have been assured by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics that CBD oil (cannabinol) is not an intoxicant. The outcome is a bill that allows this substance to be used therapeutically, as is the case for other controlled prescription medication.”

Still, the parents of children that 2014 law (and a subsequent amendment) still wait today for a clear path to legally buy cannabis oil for their epileptic children. Against that backdrop, political forces who simply wanted to legalize cannabis or hemp in Mississippi for all purposes took their shots in failed initiative-and-referendum efforts. Both referendum efforts failed in 2016to garner sufficient signatures to trigger voter referendums.

Wide-open marijuana legalization efforts in Mississippi remain political efforts that are dead-on-arrival with the voters in a state that still has its significant number of cities and counties that are “dry” on beer and light wine or on alcoholic beverages.

Into that scenario enters the Medical Marijuana 2020 effort in Mississippi. Not in all my years has a medical marijuana legalization effort been this well-organized, focused, or financed. The group proposes to “make medical marijuana available to Mississippians who have debilitating medical conditions.”

Who would qualify as having a “debilitating condition” under the proposed law? According to the group: “Mississippians who have the following debilitating medical conditions would qualify for medical marijuana – cancer, epilepsy and other seizures, 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, spinal cord injuries, and similar diseases.”

Who would decide who can get medical marijuana? “Physicians will have the option to certify the use of medical marijuana as part of a treatment after examining the patient. With a licensed physician’s certification, a patient would obtain an identification card from the Mississippi Department of Health and medical marijuana from a regulated treatment center, which will be the only place medical marijuana would be available.”

After enduring cancer and an aggressive chemotherapy regimen last year that brought with it months of constant nausea and other maladies, my mind is open to hearing the group out. I’m not quite ready to support this effort, but neither am I ready to shout it down.

Review the medical marijuana group’s arguments at MedicalMarijuana2020.com and judge for yourself whether they make their case. Mississippians aren’t likely to approve any ballot measure that makes marijuana legal for recreational purposes – and this isn’t such a law.
But will Mississippians clear roadblocks to providing relief for those suffering from chronic diseases, especially children? Maybe so.

Sid Salter--studio headshot

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

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