We won’t vote on marijuana in 2016

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2015

By Sid Salter

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the shadow of legal marijuana is growing in the U.S. Based on the inability to generate sufficient ballot initiative signatures, it appears unlikely Mississippi will join that movement anytime soon and certainly not by virtue of the 2016 election.

But electorates in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use.

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According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, some 21 states had legislation introduced in 2015 that would in some way allow or advance policy for adult recreational use of marijuana, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

One Georgia bill proposes a constitutional amendment on marijuana legalization for adult use. Legalization bills have failed in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas and West Virginia. Legislative proposals for an initiative petition or constitutional amendment failed in Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada. 

Marijuana legalization study legislation failed in Illinois, New Hampshire and Wyoming. On the other end of the political spectrum, a Maine measure failed that would have prohibited localities from referendums to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

There are two initiative-and-referendum efforts underway to get a marijuana legalization question in front of Mississippi voters.

The first one is Initiative 48, sponsored by Kelly Jacobs of Hernando, which would put the question on the ballot: “Should the use, cultivation, and sale of cannabis and industrial hemp be legalized for persons 21 years or older?”

The proposed ballot summary for the initiative reads as follows: “Initiative Measure No. 48 would legalize the use, cultivation and sale of cannabis and industrial hemp. Cannabis related crimes would be punished in a manner similar to, or to a lesser degree, than alcohol related crimes. Cannabis sales would be taxed 7 percent. Cannabis sold for medical purposes and industrial hemp would be exempt from taxation. The governor would be required to pardon persons convicted of non-violent cannabis crimes against the state of Mississippi.”

The second one is Initiative 52, sponsored by Steven Griffin of Laurel, which would put a slightly different question before state voters: “Should the Mississippi Constitution be amended to legalize and tax cannabis pursuant to the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act?”

The proposed ballot summary for that initiative reads as follows: “Initiative Measure No. 52 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to include the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act (‘the Act’). The Act legalizes cannabis for persons eighteen years of age and older, legalizes cannabis for medical purposes, authorizes the collection of taxes on cannabis, and includes various other definitions and mechanisms for implementation of the Act. For purposes of this measure, ‘cannabis’ means hemp, weed, herd, marijuana, grass, wax, concentrate extract, and hashish.”

Two political action committees, Mississippi Alliance for Cannabis and Team Legalize, have been working statewide to change the state’s pot laws by gathering signatures in support of Initiative 48. Initiatives 48 and 52 supporters were required each to garner the signatures of more than 107,000 registered voters’ on their petitions by Oct. 2, to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

That deadline was not met. Mississippi was one of eight states with initiative efforts targeting the 2016 elections underway. Since 1972, 23 states and the District of Columbia have either directly voted or seen their legislative bodies adopt law legalizing the possession and use of medical marijuana.

And while not headed to the ballot in 2016, expect the pro-weed initiative efforts in Mississippi to continue in much the same way that it has in the rest of the country. Passing such legislation in this state, well, that’s another matter entirely.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.