- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

HERNANDO, Miss. (AP) - An effort to legalize marijuana in Mississippi is growing out of DeSoto County, where petition organizer Kelly Jacobs of Hernando is planning a series of town hall meetings this month to explain the proposal.

Jacobs’ group, Mississippi for Cannabis, filed a petition in September at the Secretary of State’s satellite office in Hernando to get the issue on the 2016 general election ballot.

The office on Dec. 29 approved the measure for placement on the ballot if supporters by October gather 107,216 certified signatures, or a minimum of 21,443 from each of the state’s five congressional districts that existed before redistricting reduced the number of districts to the current four.

If they fail to get enough signatures, supporters could still try to get it on the ballot in 2017 by collecting the required number of signatures by December 2015.

Jacobs, a well-known activist in DeSoto County, said meetings explaining the effort will kick off Friday in Jackson at the Eudora Welty Library. It will be followed by the first DeSoto County meeting Saturday at the Gale Center in Hernando. Other DeSoto County meetings are planned by the end of January in Horn Lake, Olive Branch and Southaven, as well as in Senatobia in neighboring Tate County. Other meetings are planned throughout Mississippi, including ones Monday and Tuesday in Tupelo.

Twenty-three states and Washington now allow medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington state also now allow recreational sales. No Mid-South states have legalized marijuana.

The Mississippi proposal, officially titled Ballot Measure No. 48, would legalize cannabis for adults, regulating it the same as alcohol and imposing a 7 percent sales tax.

The proposal also would legalize growing industrial hemp, allowing farmers to grow it under the purview of state Department of Agriculture testing for THC levels. Industrial hemp would not be subject to sales tax.

Anyone convicted of nonviolent cannabis violations would receive a pardon, if requested, from the governor.

Jacobs said she initiated the drive to legalize marijuana as a way to stimulate involvement by young voters, many of whom identified legalization as a key issue as she tried to register them to vote. As she researched the issue more, Jacobs said, she came to understand the benefits it could offer.

“It was really hard for me as someone who has never smoked it,” Jacobs said, “but as I started researching it, I found that my husband with lupus could benefit from it. Farmers would benefit by being able to grow the industrial hemp, without the THC that causes the high.

“It’s something people should at least be able to discuss and consider, and a ballot initiative is really the only way people can assemble and discuss changes without going through the Legislature.”

Jacobs said she and friend Susan Watkins worked through 47 drafts over a three-month period to come up with the initiative approved by the Secretary of State.

Efforts to gain voter approval in a conservative state such as Mississippi likely face an uphill battle, however.

Marshall Fisher, the former Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics director and now the commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, is on record opposing the initiative. He said it could lead to drug addiction.

Closer to home, Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer turned down Jacobs’ request to hold the town hall meeting there later this month at City Hall.

Latimer said Tuesday he would consult aldermen and the city attorney on the matter, but he personally opposes legalizing marijuana and didn’t want City Hall to be used for a meeting on the matter because he feared it would appear the city was endorsing the proposal.

“I think it’s a first-step drug, and I just don’t think it’s appropriate to use City Hall,” Latimer said.

Jacobs said she was trying to line up the public library or a veterans hall for the Horn Lake session. She said she has already been approved for use of the courthouse in Olive Branch for a meeting there, and probably will use the library in Southaven.


Information from: The Commercial Appeal, https://www.commercialappeal.com

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