It’s probably a long shot, but marijuana advocates in Mississippi are giving it a go anyway. A group called Mississippi for Cannabis has filed a petition seeking to legalize the drug.
The proposal has been in the works for a while, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. And the odds of success in the Deep South are low. But it’s a start and a sign that activists are willing to pursue reform anywhere in the United States.
Mississippi for Cannabis filed the petition Sept. 29 with a local office of the Mississippi secretary of state. Kelly Jacobs, a longtime official with the Democratic Party, organized the effort.
“Now we are waiting for official approval from the Mississippi secretary of state and the attorney general, which will include a ballot initiative number and the official format for the collection of signatures,” Jacobs said. “The Mississippi Legislature also has the option to adopt our ballot initiative, but that is unlikely.”
Jacobs’ petition seeks to legalize possession, sale, and cultivation of cannabis. Residents would be able to grow up to nine plants and possess any amount of processed marijuana. Those terms are much more generous than in other states that have successfully legalized.
Organizers will need to collect about 110,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot Nov. 4. First it needs the initial approval of the secretary of state, a hardcore right-wing Republican. It’s not clear whether he’ll stand in the way, but officials in some other deep-red states have done so.
Even if the issue gets on the ballot, it’s highly unlikely it will pass in one of the most conservative parts of the country – but not impossible.
Ironically, given the strength of anti-drug forces in Mississippi, weed is already somewhat decriminalized in the state. The only penalty for a first offense is a fine, $250 at the most.
But a second conviction carries a possible jail sentence of as many as 60 days, and a third could lead to a six-month sentence.
Sale of any amount is treated harshly. Selling just 10 pounds could cost you $1 million and land you in jail for up to 30 years. Possession of paraphernalia, meanwhile, is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in jail.
So while weed is technically decriminalized in Mississippi, penalties can still be severe. That doesn’t bode well for Jacobs’ petition.
Opposition is already fierce. And proponents of the drug wars are pulling out their usual false, ridiculous claims about the drug. Marshall Fisher, former director of the Mississippi Department of Narcotics, said society would end up spending $10 on drug rehab for every $1 of pot sold.
That claim is patently absurd, and is not backed by any scientific or economic evidence of any kind, anywhere. Marijuana has a very low addiction rate, contrary to what people like Fisher claim, and leads to rehab far less often than alcohol, heroin, or other recreational drugs.
Still, Fisher’s attitude is likely to pervade discussions about reform in Mississippi. There are few liberal voters in the state, and very little support for legalization. Jacobs said that’s part of the reason she’s pushing her initiative.
“We want to legalize marijuana and decriminalize it,” she said. “It’s an adult discussion we should be having.”