October 28, 2020 11:33 am ETEstimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Relief is coming to more people in America. Just days before the Nov. 3 election, polling indicates that medical cannabis measures in both South Dakota and Mississippi have strong support and are likely to pass. Recent polling data in both states indicate warm support, sometimes across party lines. While polls can’t predict everything, if the vote were to go the same way as respondents voted, two more states could pass medical cannabis laws within the next weeks.
South Dakota Leaning Toward Medical, Recreational Questionable
In South Dakota, polling data conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy finds that three out of four voters — or 74% of respondents — intend to vote ‘yes’ on Initiative Measure 26. This initiative would legalize cannabis for therapeutic use. There is also an amendment on the initiative measure, Amendment A, that would legalize the use, production and retail sale of cannabis for adults.
The same poll data that suggested strong support for Initiative Measure 26 shows that Amendment A has warm, but not nearly as strong support. Polls show 51% of likely voters support the amendment, with 44% opposed and 5% undecided. The amendment appears to be hugely partisan. Among Democrats, 73% said they intend to vote ‘yes’ for Amendment A, as do 58% of Independents. On the other side of the aisle, only 34% of Republicans back the amendment.
More than 300,000 South Dakota residents signed a petition to get Initiative Measure 26 on the ballot, indicating at least some support for the measure prior to the election. However, the polling numbers are surprising. The South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative did not make the ballot in 2016 when it failed to garner enough signatures.
South Dakota’s strong embrace of, at the very least, medicinal cannabis comes after years of harsh penalties for the drug. Under state law, any amount of cannabis for any reason is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in jail, a $2,000 fine and a criminal record. In 2018, about one in every ten arrests made in South Dakota were related to cannabis, according to data by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.
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Polling Shows Mississippi Also Leaning Toward Some Form of Legalization
Down in Mississippi voters are looking at Mississippi Ballot Measure 1, (Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A), which are two versions of a medical cannabis amendment. Voters can vote for “either,” showing support for medical cannabis, “neither” meaning they are opposed or for one or the other. Then they can vote for which initiative they prefer regardless of if they voted either or neither. Initiative 65 would allow medical cannabis treatment for more than 20 specified qualifying conditions, whereas 65A would limit cannabis to only terminally ill patients. If there are more votes for “either” than for “neither” in the first question, the version that receives majority approval in the second question is enacted, provided it receives approval from at least 40% of the ballots cast at the election.
Recent polling results reported by WLBT show that 81% of Mississippi voters support some form of medical cannabis. This is compared to only 77% of voters who approved of medical cannabis in the magnolia state in the spring of 2018.
According to the cannabis advocacy organization NORML, Mississippi has softer cannabis laws than South Dakota, with the first offense of possession of fewer than 30 grams garnering only a maximum $250 fine. However, possession of more than 30 grams leads to a felony charge, 1 to 3 years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Mississippi is a deeply red state that has currently all elected officials both on the state and federal level as republicans. President Donald Trump won the election in 2016 by more than 200,000 votes. However, as public opinion changes around the country on the issue of medical cannabis, Mississippi’s shift seems less drastic. About 80% of Americans support the medical use of cannabis, and nearly 3 out of 4 Americans support a fine-only for recreational users, according to NORML data. Over 60% of Americans now favor legalizing cannabis, according to the most recent Gallup poll.
As the election nears, voters will decide if more Americans should gain access to medical cannabis to treat conditions from chronic pain, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder to migraines. Nov. 3 could give access to medicine to more than 3.8 million possible patients.
Emily Overholt is a writer and editor with a longstanding passion for the political and personal impact of cannabis. She often looks at the intersection of cannabis, business, politics and human stories. When not online, she can be found spoiling her dogs.
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