The steady opposition to legalizing medical marijuana is certain to continue up to the Nov. 3 election, when voters will weigh in on two proposed constitutional amendments.
The latest group to come out against the idea is the Mississippi Municipal League, which represents the interests of cities in the state. They actually have a reasonable argument for opposing the legal, regulated sale of medical marijuana: Cities will not get any of the sales taxes the product generates.
The MML is correct. The writers of Initiative 65, as the proposal is known, made a tactical error (or a boneheaded decision) by cutting cities out of medical marijuana’s sales tax revenue.
Initiative 65, if voters approve it, gives the Mississippi Department of Health the responsibility of overseeing a medical marijuana program. It says the department can apply an extra charge up to the state sales tax rate to the final sale of medical marijuana.
However, this money will not be part of the state’s general fund. Initiative 65 specifically directs that this tax be put into its own fund. The Department of Health will have authority to spend the money for administration and enforcement costs of the program.
The state gives 18.5 percent of sales taxes collected in a city to that municipality. (Unincorporated or rural areas that produce sales taxes get none of it back.) But since the proposed amendment directs the tax revenue from medical marijuana to be spent differently, it’s no surprise that the municipal group doesn’t want its members to lose revenue.
By ignoring the issue, the Legislature opened the door for advocates to gather enough signatures to put Initiative 65 to a vote of the people. Lawmakers then got so alarmed at the idea of letting the people decide (apparently this is a suitable concept only for choosing a state flag) that they came up with a medical marijuana proposal of their own.
It’s hard to say whether voters will approve of selling marijuana for medical treatment. It seems like a long shot, but it may depend on how many people with a debilitating medical condition get out to vote.