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Mississippi Medical Marijuana Ballot Language Threatens To Confuse Voters With Two Questions

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Medical marijuana is on the ballot in Mississippi. The problem for advocates, however, is that the way the ballot is constructed could make the issue seriously confusing to voters.

That’s by design, Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), told Marijuana Moment.

Shortly after the campaign officially qualified their initiative for the ballot, lawmakers approved legislation to place an alternate legalization measure before voters. Advocates say the competing ballot question is deliberately vague and could lead to a significantly more limited cannabis system if it passed over the activist-led proposal.

The result of the inclusion of an alternative is a convoluted ballot that requires voters to answer a two-step set of questions on cannabis: first, they must fill out a bubble to “vote for approval of either, or against both” measures. Then they’re prompted to “vote for one” and given the choice of the activist-driven Initiative 65 and lawmakers’ alternative measure 65A.

Immediately, there’s a logistical question. For those who voted against approving either, the use of the word “and” in the next question might lead some to think they have to select one. And if they did make a selection despite their opposition, it’s unclear whether those votes would still be counted. Alternatively, some voters who are trying to fill out their ballots quickly may skip the first question and go right to filling out the bubble for Measure 65 and then have their support discounted.

The difference in language preceding the legalization options could also cause problems. Both measures were analyzed by the state’s Legislative Budget Office, and because the activist campaign’s is more detailed, officials were able to come up with estimated costs and revenue. A big block of text goes over those numbers prior to the question itself, with costs getting more prominent billing than revenue. In the first year of implementation, the measure will cost more than it will bring in—a possible roadblock to supporting the measure for some voters—though in subsequent years there’s anticipated to be a $10.6 million annual net gain.

But for the legislature’s alternative, the analysts simply said the “cost or revenue impact associated with this initiative is undeterminable.”

Via Mississippi Secretary of State.

While it’s possible some voters might be inclined to choose the ostensibly simpler version, MCC’s Grantham sees it differently. In a state that strongly conservative, voters care about the financial impact of reform—and she says the lack of an analysis for the alternative will demonstrate to residents that it’s an unserious proposal.

But Grantham recognizes that the ballot isn’t the straightforward “yes/no” on the activist-driven initiative that they’d hoped for.

“That’s been our concern the entire time,” she told Marijuana Moment. “That’s really the whole point with the legislature putting 65A on the ballot is that they’ve never put forth a program legislatively. They’ve blocked more than 20 proposed bills over the last few decades to do so legislatively. And then as soon as Initiative 65 qualifies, the put 65A on the ballot in order to confuse voters and dilute the vote so that neither measure meet the required amount of votes to pass.”

The ballot initiative law allowing for an alternative is “a backdoor for the legislature” to undermine the will of the voters and shut down reform they disagree with, she argued. “These are just people that don’t want medical marijuana. None of their arguments have any foundation, they really don’t.”

Matthew Schwiech, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the ballot “reflects our expectations, and it’s going to be very important for the campaign to explain the process to voters and to make the case for Initiative 65.”

He also agreed with Grantham about the fiscal language, stating that “when a voter reads the fiscal analysis, it will be fairly easy to understand. I think it’s written in a way that avoids technical jargon. And I think that it is an advantage to give clarity to voters on the fiscal impact.”

To combat any potential confusions for voters when they head to the polls, MCC is stepping up educational outreach, with activists traveling throughout the state to talk about the need for the policy change and how to navigate the ballot. They’re also sharing information across social media, including a comparison chart breaking down the differences between the versions.

Via MCC.

But with only weeks left until the November election, time is of the essence if the campaign hopes to make it clear to voters across the state how to fill out the jumbled ballot.

Schweich said he’s not especially concerned about potential voter drop out due to confusion over the ballot language and setup.

“Ballot drop off is impacted by a number of factors. The length of the ballot overall, the placement of the ballot question itself and the familiarity that voters have with ballot initiatives—some states have ballot initiatives often, some states, it’s less frequent. So it’s difficult to say what the drop off might be in Mississippi,” he said. “I will say that, looking at the ballot, there’s only two pages of candidates and then you get straight to the initiatives. I think the layout with the three measures is fairly clear.”

“What this really comes down to is the campaign explaining that you just have to vote for approval and then you have to vote for 65,” he said.

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 poll 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.

Missouri Sends $2.1M In Medical Marijuana Revenue To Military Veterans Health Programs

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved

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A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.

On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules in place.

While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.

Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

The state pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.

But in the court’s ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.

“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”

In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.

“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”

“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.

One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having five congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.

In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their measure and saw 68 percent of voters approve it last year.

Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.

This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.

While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.

Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below: 

Mississippi Supreme Court m… by Marijuana Moment

Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing

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Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing

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A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.

As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.

It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.

“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”

The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.

“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.

Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.

In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.

She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.

Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.

Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below: 

Norton cannabis housing bill by Marijuana Moment

Drug Possession Is Officially A Crime Again In Washington, But As A Misdemeanor Instead Of Felony

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.

Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.

The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.

MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.

The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.

“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”

Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.

It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.

Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”

This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.

FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.

The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Ballot Campaign After Legislative Filibuster Blocks Bill

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