Mississippi has medical marijuana: What does that mean for the rest of the South?

Mississippi voted on Tuesday to create a medical marijuana program, becoming the 35th state in America to legalize marijuana for medical use. Now that one of the reddest states in the nation gave the OK to to medical MJ, what does that mean for the rest of the South?

This vote seats Mississippi among the now majority of Southern states with a medical marijuana program. Currently Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Virginia and West Virginia have medical marijuana programs. This leaves Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky as the remaining states without it. Georgia has a low-THC medical marijuana oil program, but does not authorize the sale or use of marijuana in leaf or digestible form for medical use. 

Preliminary election results in Mississippi show 68% of voters chose yes to either Initiative 65 or Alternative 65A. Results show 74% of those who chose yes voted for Initiative 65, the measure created through grassroots action. Results showed 93 percent of all precincts reporting Wednesday morning. 

“I speak on behalf of my entire team when I say we want to give God the glory and praise for this victory,” said Jamie Grantham,  communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care.

“He started this. He made this amazing plant that is helping so many people across the country. He provided and blessed this journey every step of the way since we began in 2018. We have prayed diligently that this program would pass, knowing that it will help so many suffering patients and fam- ilies in Mississippi. God gets the glory for this win. God gets the glory for 65 passing. This is a huge day for Mississippi and I couldn’t be more excited, humbled, or thankful.”

Political vs. Public perception of marijuana

“For a long time, the biggest challenge was medical marijuana was seen as more controversial than it is by elected officials. The perception was that the public doesn’t support it. Now, we know that’s not true. Having voters in MS pass medical cannabis will refute any lingering concern that it’s something that only passes in liberal states. It will reiterate that it’s politically safe and politically necessary everywhere,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Program. 

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said the history of medical marijuana legislation in other states suggested Mississippi’s ballot measure would be successful.

“If you look at the history, (marijuana) wins when you get it to the ballot,” Armentano said. “The public consensus has been well ahead of the political will for some time, going back decades. That’s why we (marijuana advocates) have had such consistent and long-standing success at the ballot.”

Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas are the only southern states with ballot initiatives or referendums. The remaining southern states without medical marijuana–Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky–must depend on the state legislature to create a medical marijuana program. 

O’Keefe believes Mississippi’s move to create a program could urge bordering states to do the same. She noted the CBD-only laws that passed in 2015 as an example of this rapid succession of states approving new marijuana laws. 

“When you have states that are similar in population and values, the easier it is for neighboring states to move forward to help suffering patients,” O’Keefe said. 

She said she doesn’t believe religious beliefs are holding states back. An example, she said, is the conservative state of Utah, which approved medical marijuana in 2018 through a ballot measure. 

“Even opponents [of medical marijuana] see the positive effects and see it helping sick people and not causing problems they were concerned about,” O’Keefe said. 

“Now, there are only 14 states left without medical cannabis. It will start to be more of the anomaly.” 

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