Mississippi could have two medical marijuana proposals on November ballot

Published 4:19 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Mississippi House voted Tuesday to put a second medical marijuana proposal on the statewide ballot this year.

But people who petitioned to get the first one there say the second is designed to split the vote and kill both proposals.

More than 200,000 people signed petitions to put Initiative 65 on the November ballot.

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It would amend the Mississippi Constitution to allow the prescription of up to 5 ounces (142 grams) of marijuana per month for a person with a debilitating medical condition.

On Tuesday, the Mississippi House voted to put an alternative medical marijuana proposal on the same ballot.

Republican Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia said the alternative would allow local zoning regulations that would prevent pot shops from springing up on main streets.

The alternative would restrict the smoking of prescribed marijuana to people with terminal illnesses, although people who are ill but not dying could use oils or other forms of the drug.

Republican Rep. Joel Bomgar of Madison worked on writing and gathering signatures for Initiative 65. He said the alternative is “absolutely intended to kill it.”

Bomgar said he supports legalizing medical marijuana because he watched his parents struggle with extreme pain before each of them died of cancer.

“People in Mississippi are dying in way more pain than is necessary,” Bomgar said during a House debate Tuesday.

Lamar said people who signed petitions for Initiative 65 were misled about the extent to which it could make marijuana available.

“It’s designed to flood the market with marijuana that will lead this state to a recreational marijuana environment,” Lamar said of Initiative 65.

Lamar said an academic expert on marijuana research told him that 5 ounces (142 grams) of marijuana is enough for “300 joints a month.”

The alternative proposal would go on the ballot only if it is also approved by the state Senate.

Once an initiative is on the ballot in Mississippi, winning approval is not easy.

A majority of people who vote that day must also cast some kind of vote on the initiative.

That can be a challenge if the ballot is long because people sometimes vote in top races like president and then skip races or initiatives lower on the ballot.

If an initiative meets the threshold for the total number of votes needed, it must also receive approval by at least 40% of the total votes cast in that election for it to pass.

For example, if 1 million people vote for president in November, at least 500,000 must cast some sort of vote on an initiative.

For an initiative to pass, it would need at least 400,000 votes.

With two initiatives on the ballot, some people might vote for one and against the other.

That happened in 2015 when an education funding initiative got on the ballot through the petition process and legislators put an alternative measure on the same ballot. Both proposals died.