Mississippians who support medical marijuana will have to decide between two proposals that will be on the November general election ballot.
The Senate, by a 34-17 vote, approved a proposal Thursday night to place on the November ballot an alternative to a citizen-sponsored initiative designed to legalize medical marijuana for people with “debilitating illnesses.”
The alternative passed the House earlier.
Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative say the legislative alternative is designed to confuse the voters and result in the defeat of both.
Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, pointed out that in 2015 the Legislature also put an alternative on the ballot alongside an initiative designed to enhance the state’s commitment to public education. The result in that instance was that both proposals were defeated.
“When we have an initiative of the people by the people we have a problem with it,” Blackmon said.
But Senate Constitution Chair Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg, said, he does not believe the legislative leadership was trying to kill medical marijuana by placing the alternative on the ballot.
“I have heard over 70 percent of voters approve of medical marijuana, according to polling,” he said.
Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, who authored the proposal, has argued that the citizen-sponsored initiative was written in a way to prevent the Legislature from being able to regulate medical marijuana. He said both his proposal and the initiative would allow people to purchase marijuana if a medical doctor certified they needed it for their illness.
Of the citizen-sponsored initiative, Lamar said, “This is not a simple medical marijuana program. It is designed to flood the market with marijuana that will lead to the state having recreational marijuana.”
Lamar’s alternative proposal would place more restrictions on the use of marijuana, he said.
The alternative passed the House earlier in the week in a much more contentious debate than what occurred Thursday night in the Senate. Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, who was one of the leaders of the citizen-sponsored initiative effort, told Lamar that he offered Lamar an opportunity to help craft the language in the initiative, but he refused. Instead, Bomgar said, Lamar authored the alternative in an effort to ensure medical marijuana was not approved on the November ballot. Lamar said that was not true. Lamar said he believes medical marijuana “was beneficial.”
The legislative leadership put the effort to pass the alternative on the fast track. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann had senators take up the alternative Thursday night after a long deadline day where they voted on about 35 bills that faced a Thursday night deadline. The medical marijuana alternative was not on that deadline.
To place an initiative on the ballot, the signature of about 106,000 registered voters must be gathered in about a year’s time. The medical marijuana supporters said they had more than 200,000 signatures.