Mississippi voters to decide on medical marijuana in November

Published 6:51 pm Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Mississippi is one of three states that will vote on some type of marijuana-related referendum in the November 2020 elections — the others being New Jersey and South Dakota. Up to eight additional states could get referendums before their votes in 2020, but so far only three states are certain to pose marijuana questions to their citizens this year.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia — Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have adopted the most liberal laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

A larger group of states including Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and West Virginia have legalized the use of medical marijuana only in variable amounts under variable conditions.

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So what marijuana referendums are on the ballot in November? New Jersey is voting on legalization of recreational use of marijuana. South Dakota is voting on legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana use on the same ballot.

Mississippi voters will face the question of legalized medicinal marijuana use on a broader scale on the November ballot. Medical marijuana is already legal in Mississippi in the narrowest of senses and has been since 2014. Legal, yes. Available? Not really. Former Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed Mississippi’s very narrow current medical marijuana bill into law in 2014 with help from some of the state’s most conservative lawmakers.

The namesake of the bill — Harper Grace’s Law — was Harper Grace Durval, a child enduring Dravet Syndrome, a rare and particularly difficult form of epilepsy. Harper Grace’s Law was supposed to allow the Durval child and other children like her to obtain treatment with cannabis oil at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Clinical trials have been conducted with a limited number of patients with good results. UMMC announced in July 2019 a one-year extension of the clinical trial of a new marijuana-derived drug to treat seizures in children.

The broad-cased referendum effort called Medical Marijuana 2020 in Mississippi has a fighting chance. The proposed referendum petitioners collected the 86,185 valid signatures necessary to put the referendum on the 2020 statewide ballot. The group proposes to “make medical marijuana available to Mississippians who have debilitating medical conditions.”

Who would qualify for medical marijuana under this proposed law? Those with “cancer, epilepsy and other seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, 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.”

Medical Marijuana 2020 doesn’t have a fighting chance in November because of old hippies — it has a chance because of grandparents and parents of children with epilepsy or autism, spouses of cancer patients, multiple sclerosis sufferers and those who experience seizures.

My late father endured Parkinson’s for20 years. My late wife suffered the ravages of multiple sclerosis for 23 years before her death in 2005. I battled stage IV Burkitt’s Lymphoma blood cancer in 2017, taking eight rounds of intensive EPOCH-R chemotherapy that eventually put me in remission and extended my life.

Would either of us have used medicinal marijuana in our journeys had it been legal? I honestly don’t know. But we — and others who will certainly follow us into the dark valley of those dread diseases and others — ought to have the choice to ease our pain or side effects with that substance if we and medical personnel believe it will help.

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