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In Voting To Make Weed Legal, Mississippians Rejected the Advice of Political Leaders

Government leaders and talk show hosts asked the people of Mississippi to vote against legalizing medical marijuana. They didn't listen.

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If one theme has emerged in the years since Colorado and Washington became the first states to make cannabis legal, it is this: When it comes to marijuana legalization, the people are far more progressive than the politicians.

Jeremy Woodhouse | Getty Images

The theme played out again in the November 2020 election in Mississippi. Residents there heard from the state’s governor, lawmakers, healthcare officials, and even talk show radio hosts that they shouldn’t vote to make medical marijuana legal.

The state Legislature, unhappy with the original referendum put on the ballot by citizens, drafted their own version and placed it on the ballot, too, sowing confusion. 

In the end, none of it mattered. More than 70 percent of Mississippians voted for medical marijuana legalization. Proponents said state leaders simply did not get it. 

"This is not a political issue. It's just not," Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “This is a very special, unique issue that people have tried to politicize, and they should really be ashamed of themselves because it's not political."

Related: New York Might Be Late To Legalization, But It Can Still Lead

The state Legislature’s moves failed.

The decision by a vast majority of Mississippi to vote in favor of legalization seems even more striking when you consider how vehemently the state’s leadership spoke out against it.

The referendum, called Initiative 65, amended the state Constitution to legalize medical marijuana. It made the ballot through a citizen initiative signature petition. But the proposal drew the ire of state lawmakers, who crafted a second proposal for the ballot. Called Amendment 65A, it put more power into state lawmakers' hands for setting the details of the program. It also limited cannabis use to terminally ill patients.

However, the original amendment - the one that passed - allows people to use medical marijuana if they have 22 different medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, HIV, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

In the election, almost 68 percent of voters approved of legalization. Of those, 73.9 percent backed Initiative 65, while only 26.1 percent backed 65A.

Related: Mexico Just Got One Giant Step Closer to Legalizing Marijuana

The governor failed, too.

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 election, state voters got an earful on the ballot initiative from Gov. Tate Reeves. He Tweeted that while “there are good folks on all sides of the medical marijuana debate,” he felt that “most non-stoners say we should be careful & deliberate. Initiative 65 is the opposite. Experts say it would mean the most liberal weed rules in the US!”

That didn’t seem to change many minds.

Jim Perry, who serves on the State Health Board, went on a radio show in the days before the election to claim that medical associations, oncology societies, pediatricians, Realtors, the municipal league, sheriffs, police chiefs, and the Baptist convention all opposed the initiative.

That didn’t seem to change many minds, either.

Kevin Lavine, a former narcotics officer who now is a professor at Jackson State University, told the Clarion-Ledger that Mississippians, like many others, believe marijuana laws and law enforcement have treated people unfairly.

He also said a harsh approach to marijuana doesn't solve a community's drug problem, adding, “What's happening here in Mississippi is people are starting to recognize the benefits of marijuana (for) medicinal use. Politics and law enforcement are both the same — rigid and resistant to change."

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