/Legislative inaction on medical marijuana leaves voters with tough choice

Legislative inaction on medical marijuana leaves voters with tough choice

Millsaps College’s poll and Mississippi-based Chism Strategies’ 2019 poll found that 67% to 27% of respondents supported legalizing medical cannabis. It’s hard to find support for all issues in today’s divided society. Some voters might reconsider voting for the issue. They may be supportive of medical marijuana. Two medical marijuana proposals will be on the November ballot: one citizen-sponsored initiative and another approved by legislators. The alternative was placed on the ballot by legislators because they felt the citizen-sponsored initiative was too permissive, which would allow for easy access to cannabis. Some would argue that the proposal of the legislators is too restrictive. It is being put on the ballot to confuse voters and ensure defeat. Both arguments are valid depending on how you look at it. There is an additional argument, which while it may seem academic at first glance, has real-world consequences. The Mississippi Constitution will incorporate medical marijuana if either of these proposals wins on the Nov. 3. ballot. It is true that the Constitution should address major issues such as our rights and liberties. But, it is important to remember that once something is in the Constitution, it can’t be changed or removed. There are two options to amend the Mississippi Constitution. Either you complete the hard task of collecting the nearly 100,000 signatures required to put an initiative on the poll, or the Legislature approves the proposal by a two thirds vote in both chambers. The proposal is then approved by the voters. No matter what a person’s views are on medical marijuana science and other factors could lead to changes to the issue in years to make it more accessible. It would be more difficult to make the changes if it was enshrined into the Constitution. This is partly why other drugs are not included in the Constitution. These drugs are included in general laws, which can be amended by simple majority votes from both legislative chambers or the governor’s signature. A proposal to legalize medical cannabis has been in the Mississippi Senate’s queue since June 30. It would require a two-thirds vote from both chambers to pass this proposal due to the late date it was presented. If it is passed, however, it will be in general law, just like other drugs and similar to alcohol and tobacco products. It is possible to make changes to the general law more easily than to the Constitution. Senator Pro Tem Dean Kirby (R-Pearl), who is the Chair of the Rules Committee, where the legislation was created, stated that he decided not to put it up for a vote as there hasn’t been a consensus on whether or not it could pass. Kirby stated that while the Legislature could reconvene between now & Oct. 5, Kirby did not believe it would come up. However, things can change here. “I don’t know the outcome, but I think it won’t come up at this point, if I were betting, I would bet it would not.” The idea behind the legislation was that voters would less likely approve one of the constitutional propositions on the Nov. 3. ballot if a bill was approved to legalize medical marijuana in general. Kirby suggested that having the Senate resolution pending could be interpreted as giving the voters confidence that even if one of the proposed laws is rejected, the Legislature will likely take up the matter in the 2021 session. A more realistic scenario is that if medical cannabis is defeated at the ballot box in November, legislators may be reluctant to go back behind the voters and approve such a plan. The House minority leader, Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson, of Natchez, stated that he understands and agrees with the arguments against marijuana being included in the Constitution, but that these arguments are not convincing to him. Johnson stated that he supports decriminalization of marijuana, saying “it has provided people with a vehicle to be jailed more than they should be” and that approving medical cannabis is “a first move.” Johnson explained that the Legislature had many years to legalize medical marijuana, but “we didn’t,” so here we are. The choice is between allowing medical marijuana to be included in the Constitution or denying approval for many years. This decision could prove to be difficult for many voters.