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A Snapshot Of America's Medical Marijuana Markets: Mississippi

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A Snapshot Of America's Medical Marijuana Markets: Mississippi

Mississippi allows medical cannabis consumption in only the strictest fashion. Since 2014, the state has permitted patients with seizure disorders to use a high-CBD/low-THC product as medicine.

The laws could expand this fall. In November, citizens will head to the polls to vote on two medical cannabis ballot questions.

One bill is aimed at curtailing the market's growth.

Two Bills, One Aimed At Killing Reform: Citizens appear to want medical cannabis in Mississippi. That said, it is uncertain which bill they want, and if they can differentiate between the two ballot questions.

Initiative 65 is considered a more accessible program. Backed by the advocacy group Medical Marijuana 2020, the bill's highlights include 22 listed qualifying conditions, a 2.5-ounce possession limit and 7% state tax.

The second bill, Alternative 65A, is backed by conservative lawmakers. Many cannabis advocates and lawmakers have pushed back on 65A for its failure to produce specifics on critical factors laid out in the advocate-backed bill.

The two ballot questions made it to the ballot after Medical Marijuana 2020 gathered 228,000 signatures across the state. Under state law, the legislature opted to put up a competing proposal.

The opposition bill reportedly passed the House in 2 minutes.

No official statement from opposing lawmakers was readily available.

In an October 2019 discussion with Ballotpedia, state Department of Health Communications Director Liz Sharlot stated its opposition.

"It is not FDA approved, it is illegal, and has not undergone a rigorous medical review," Sharlot said.

Medical Marijuana 2020's Executive Director Jamie Grantham told Benzinga that the two bills contain similar wording aimed at confusing voters in the hopes that both will fail. 

Matthew Schweich, deputy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, discussed the possible friction created by dueling bills. Calling the process "more complicated," Schweich summarized what the voting experience would be like.

"First, a Mississippi voter will be asked whether or not the state should approve some form of a medical marijuana amendment, and then the voter will be presented with two options: Amendment 65 and Amendment 65A."

Grantham highlighted broad differences in the ballot questions.

"Initiative 65 is transparent. It lays out the structure for the medical marijuana program in Mississippi that will best serve patients in a conservative and regulated way."

The alternative is vague and does not outline specifics or have accountaibility for when or how a program will be instituted, he said. 

Initiative 65 has the support of other national cannabis advocacy programs, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 

In January, Erik Altieri, the group's executive director, told Ted Carter of the Mississippi Business Journal that Initiative 65's focus on affordable licensing and relative ease of entrance for patients.

"They seem to be trying to make marijuana accessible to those who need it," Altieri said. 

What's Next For Mississippi Medical Cannabis: The two ballot questions have several months left to campaign to citizens.

While two ballot questions could create confusion at the ballot box, most appear confident that Initiative 65 passing as intended by Medical Marijuana 2020.

"Our campaign became more difficult due to the competing initiative, but there is still a path to victory," said MPP's Schweich.

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