Should Mississippi allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians to use medical marijuana?
Mississippians could see this question on the ballot in the November 2020 election.
Medical Marijuana 2020, a campaign to get this medical marijuana initiative on the general election ballot next year, has collected more than 60,000 signatures.
State law requires more than 86,000 verified signatures to get an initiative on the ballot.
The initiative aims to make medical marijuana available to patients in Mississippi suffering from pain or debilitating conditions.
According to Jamie Grantham, director of communications for the Medical Marijuana 2010 campaign, the initiative cuts through the red tape that surrounded the state’s previous attempt at medical marijuana legislation.
Grantham, a Mississippi College graduate who previously worked for First Liberty and the Heritage Foundation, said it all started with Harper Grace.
Several years ago, Ashley Durval’s daughter Harper Grace began to have hour-long seizures throughout the day. After a long process, Harper Grace was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy.
In 2014, when Harper Grace was two years old, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill into law allowing access to CBD oil for treatment.
“So, the way the bill reads is that only the sickest people can get access to CBD oil and it has to be dispensed through University of Mississippi Medical Center and come through Ole Miss,” Grantham said. “There’s just a lot of red tape. In order for UMMC to do that, they have to get approval through several federal agencies. It’s been five years, and Harper Grace has never gotten a drop of medicine.”
Durval stepped up to be the spokesperson of the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign and filed the initiative with the secretary of state in July 2018.
All Medical Marijuana 2020 efforts are funded through contributions.
“We want to be able to help Harper Grace get access to her medicine, and there are a ton of other people here in Mississippi that have debilitating medical conditions that medical marijuana would be helpful for,” Grantham said.
This initiative differs from the previous bill by allowing people with other conditions to have access to medical marijuana, instead of just those with epilepsy to have access only to CBD oil.
“CBD is only one of the more than 100 cannabinoids found in the plant,” Grantham said.
“Medical research shows that there are many different types of conditions that people could benefit from this, such as those with Parkinson’s, cancer patients dealing with the effects of chemotherapy, chronic pain, HIV,” Grantham added.
There are 22 conditions listed to be eligible for medical marijuana treatment in the proposed initiative.
Grantham said there is medical research to back all of the conditions that are included. Research has been published by the Journal of American Medicine, among others.
“The way that this initiative is different is that it doesn’t just allow only a very small group of people with one specific debilitating condition to have access to just one cannabinoid from it,” Grantham said.
The proposed initiative would allow the whole plant to be used at the doctor’s discretion.
If the initiative passes, it would work by first requiring a person to have one of the 22 debilitating medical conditions outlined in the initiative.
There is a special allowance for a physician to certify medical marijuana for a similar diagnosis.
Next, that person would have to be examined in-person in Mississippi by a Mississippi physician, meaning a Mississippi-licensed M.D. or D.O.
If the physician concludes that a person has a debilitating medical condition and that medical marijuana could mitigate the symptoms, the physician may certify the person to use medical marijuana.
The person would then be issued a form as prescribed by the Mississippi Board of Health, which would be valid for 12 months unless otherwise specified by the physician.
After that, if the person becomes a qualified patient under the proposal, the physician certification must be presented to the Mississippi Department of Health, and the patient will be issued a medical marijuana identification card.
The ID would allow the patient to obtain medical marijuana from a licensed and regulated treatment center and would protect the patient from civil or criminal sanctions from law enforcement officers.
The Department of Health would maintain an online access system and real-time database to track everything.
While the campaign has garnered more than 60,000 signatures that are in the process of being verified by the state, the deadline to reach more than 86,000 is six months away.
Those gathering signatures for the campaign are required to undergo a training process to ensure that they follow the proper protocol.
Signatures must be collected in print on a hard copy of the initiative proposed for the 2020 ballot.
Volunteers all over the state are working to collect signatures.
For a signature to be legitimate, the signee must be a registered voter in Mississippi and sign legibly.
Grantham said approximately 77 percent of Mississippians support the initiative, according to a recent poll.
“Unfortunately, everyone knows someone who has one of these conditions,” Grantham said. “Everybody knows somebody who had one of those conditions and didn’t have (medical marijuana) available to them. Or they know somebody now who has a condition and could benefit from it.”
Grantham spends a lot of time traveling and explaining the initiative to people across the state.
“I personally would not have uprooted my life and moved to a different state for recreational marijuana use. It’s two completely different things. This is for sick patients. It’s medicine,” Grantham said.
She said the program will be “tightly regulated” and “very strict.”
“Thirty-three other states have medical marijuana programs,” Grantham said. “We’ve visited these states and talked to their regulators, talked to their business owners, talked to their patients and doctors, and we were able to take all of that and see what has worked well for those states and what hasn’t worked well.”
If the initiative is successful, the Mississippi Department of Health would completely oversee the regulatory framework for the state’s program.
“They will be the ones implementing regulations on medical marijuana,” Grantham said. “If it’s on the November 2020 ballot, then they will have to have it up and running and regulations functioning by August of 2021.”
If the initiative passes, medical marijuana could open up many job opportunities within the state.
“It has to be grown in Mississippi, because of the federal law with it being a schedule one classification, it can’t travel across state lines,” Grantham said. “So, it would all be here in Mississippi, grown here in Mississippi, processed here in Mississippi. Tested, labeled, licensed, distributed, all of it has to be done within Mississippi’s borders.”
Grantham said the Mississippi Department of Health will be taking applications from potential farmers and business owners to seek licensing if they meet the requirements.
The initiative was written from a free market approach, so anyone who meets the regulations the Mississippi Department of Health puts into place would be warranted a license, according to Grantham.