A spokeswoman for an organization leading the effort to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi sounds optimistic that it will happen next year.
Jamie Grantham, communications director of Medical Marijuana 2020, told the Greenwood Rotary Club on Tuesday that she is confident the petition drive has gathered enough signatures to put the question to voters next November.
Under Mississippi’s initiative and referendum law, in order for a petition to be placed on the ballot, a minimum of 86,185 certified signatures must be gathered, with at least 17,237 from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in 2000.
Grantham said that Medical Marijuana 2020 turned in 105,686 certified signatures and met the threshold with about 20% to spare in each of the five districts. It is now waiting on the Secretary of State’s Office to verify the signatures, which it must do by early January.
She said public opinion polling has shown that more than two-thirds of the state’s residents favor legalization for medical purposes.
If the initiative is approved by voters, licensed physicians in the state would be allowed to certify patients who are suffering from a host of debilitating medical conditions, ranging from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder, to receive marijuana products, in their various forms.
Grantham emphasized, though, that the medical condition would have to be serious and verified by the prescribing physician.
“This is not for a stubbed toe or a headache,” she said.
The Mississippi Department of Health would be responsible for regulating the program, and the costs of that regulation would be covered by fees charged to patients and providers of medical marijuana.
Grantham said that her organization does not advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana.
Only 10 of the 34 states that have legalized medical marijuana have made the drug legal for other uses, she said, “and they’re not conservative states.”
The initiative effort is being primarily funded by a political action committee, Mississippians for Compassionate Care. Since its formation in July 2018, the PAC has raised and spent more than $2.4 million, according to its filings through November with the secretary of state.
Its largest sources of revenue are loans totaling $800,000 from BancorpSouth, a Tupelo-based bank holding company; and contributions of $600,000 from technology entrepreneur and state Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison.
Its expenditures have largely been for legal, media and organizational consultants, including Grantham. More than $1.1 million has been spent with Grassroots Community Headquarters, a Hattiesburg firm that ran the signature-gathering effort.
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The original version of this article incorrectly reported that BancorpSouth is a contributor to Mississippians for Compassionate Care. Money to the PAC from the bank holding company has been in the form of loans. Also it was incorrectly reported that physicians will be able to prescribe medical marijuana if the initiative is approved. Technically, they will not be prescribing it but rather certifying patients eligible to receive it.