With just weeks left before Mississippi voters decide on a pair of dueling medical marijuana initiatives, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is adding a new wrinkle into the mix.
The governor signed legislation on Thursday that amends state law to allow people to obtain marijuana-derived medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In announcing the action, Reeves reiterated his opposition to broader medical cannabis reform, stating that he’s “against efforts to make marijuana mainstream.”
“That said—helping people with safe treatments should not be off the table,” he said. “Just signed a bill for kids like Brady and Brianna with a rare form of epilepsy to get FDA-approved treatment.”
I’m against efforts to make marijuana mainstream. That said—helping people with safe treatments should not be off the table. Just signed a bill for kids like Brady and Brianna with a rare form of epilepsy to get FDA-approved treatment. @SenatorHarkins led on it for years! pic.twitter.com/NdvRfomtNV
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) October 8, 2020
Reeves’s tweet about signing the legislation included photos of him with those children.
Under the bill, federally approved cannabis medications would be removed from Schedule V of Mississippi’s drug code. This comes about six months after the Drug Enforcement Administration removed the CBD-derived medication Epidiolex from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
While the modest state reform to expand access to these prescription drugs marks a positive development for patients who need them, reform advocates have been skeptical about the top officials’ intentions ahead of the election. There’s been a concerted push among legalization opponents to get voters to reject the broad medical cannabis Initiative 65, and so promoting the legislative change could theoretically detract support by creating the appearance that medical marijuana is now already available.
“I am so glad that this bill may help Brady and Brianna, but Initiative 65 for medical marijuana will help thousands of families across the state with loved ones suffering from 22 debilitating medical conditions including cancer, seizures, PTSD, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and ALS,” Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), told Marijuana Moment. “I encourage voters to vote YES for Initiative 65 on November 3!”
The primary complication for advocates is the fact that two competing initiatives will appear alongside each other on the ballot. After Mississippians for Compassionate Care qualified their measure, the legislature approved an alternative that is viewed as more restrictive. The result is a muddled ballot that requires voters to answer a two-step series of questions—and that potential confusion threatens to jeopardize the activist-led proposal.
The Mississippi State Medical Association and American Medical Association are also contributing to the opposition, circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject Initiative 65.
What the campaign has on its side, at least, is clear voter support based on recent polling. Eighty-one percent of respondents said in a recently released survey that they support medical cannabis legalization generally, and the activist-led initiative is significantly more popular than the competing alternative.
If the campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve similarly posed a threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.