In moves that replicate almost directly citizen action that brought the state’s medical marijuana program to fruition, some Mississippians are challenging their municipalities and counties that have chosen to opt out of the state’s new medical marijuana program.
After consistently resisting legalizing cannabis for medical use beyond 2014’s “Harper Grace’s Law,” Mississippi legislators responded to constituent pressure and enacted measures in early 2022 that legalized cannabis for medical use after 74% of Mississippians voting had approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative in November 2020. (The legislature acted after the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the ballot initiative process as a whole, including the 2020 vote on medical marijuana, on constitutional grounds in May 2021.)
The new medical marijuana legislation stipulates that counties can opt in or out of the program, and as of mid-September this year 17 counties and 85 municipalities had banned dispensing medical marijuana, according to the Department of Revenue
However, in some of those places, residents disagreed with those decisions and took action to reverse the local lawmakers’ actions.
On March 20, the board of supervisors in southwest Mississippi’s Lincoln County voted to completely opt out of the Mississippi medical cannabis program. This meant no cultivation, processing sale or distribution of medical cannabis and cannabis products would be legal.
That clearly was the opposite of Lincoln County voters’ intent when 54.22% of them cast ballots in favor of the legalization of medical cannabis during the statewide referendum.
In reaction to the supervisors’ ban, voters in Lincoln County created a “Stop the Opt” Facebook group and gathered enough signatures to force the issue onto a countywide ballot. In late August, voters opted back into the medical cannabis program. The special election, in which 2,593 ballots were cast, reversed the supervisors’ decision by a margin of 184 votes.
“We’re pleased today that there is a law that is consistent across the county,” Jason McDonald, a Stop the Opt organizer, told The Daily Leader in Brookhaven. “And that patients can get access (to medical marijuana) and we can all move forward with our lives.”
Also earlier this year, the board of supervisors in Lauderdale County chose to opt out of the medical marijuana program, while elected officials in Meridian, the county seat, decided to allow medical marijuana to be cultivated, processed and sold within the city limits.
The Meridian Star reported a petition with 1,500 signatures challenging the supervisors’ decision was filed and subsequently triggered an election on the issue Nov. 8.
Of the 14,918 votes cast, 58.4% were in favor of allowing the medical marijuana industry to operate in unincorporated areas of Lauderdale County, as well as in Meridian, while 41.6% were against the measure.
In Gluckstadt, a newly incorporated municipality north of Jackson in Madison County, voters attempted to reverse the city’s decision to opt out of the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act. According to Municipal Clerk Lindsay Kellum, the petition was certified. It failed, however, due to a lack of signatures and other technical issues.
Story by Violet Jira