The owner of a large medical cannabis cultivator in Arkansas has paid two lobbyists to raise opposition in the legislature against the state’s medical marijuana ballot initiative.

According to state records, marijuana entrepreneur Stephen LaFrance has hired Jim and Ted Thompson of Thompson and Associates. No lobbying issue was listed on the registration forms filed with the secretary of state’s office.

LaFrance is the owner of the Natural State Medicinals, which started shipping marijuana to dispensaries in May 2019. The White Hall, Arkansas-based cultivator was the second grower to make their products available to dispensaries in Arkansas. 

What LaFrance is seeking is obvious: To kill Initiative 65, which would create a medical cannabis program in Mississippi and mandate that the state Department of Health run the program.

According to Mississippi law, once a ballot initiative receives enough signatures and the secretary of state’s office approves them to appear on the ballot, the legislature has the right to put a legislative alternative on the ballot as well. These are designed to confuse voters and siphon support from the original initiative. 

Jamie Grantham, the communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care, said the campaign’s position on the legislative alternatives is that they are an attempt to kill the initiative.

“The legislature has had 20 years to do it and they’ve not wanted to touch it,” Grantham said. “Multiple legislators have put forth bills and none of those has made it to the floor for a vote at the capitol. It requires a voter on November 3 to get to the bottom of the ballot, who is maybe is excited about voting yes and it’s a two-step, convoluted process in order to defeat it.”

There are four such concurrent resolutions in the legislature, with three in the House and one in the Senate. The one thing all would do is punt creation of a program until next year’s legislative session, which is highly unlikely. 

Since they are resolutions and not bills, they only require approval of the legislature and don’t need the signature of Gov. Tate Reeves to appear on the ballot. 

Only House Concurrent Resolution 39, by state Rep. Trey Lamar (R-Senatobia), would create a program and would restrict the program to those with terminal conditions. The other three resolutions are exact duplicates of each other.

The most recent case of the legislative alternative was during the fight over Initiative 42, which would’ve given the Hinds County Chancery Court the power to appropriate more state money for individual school districts through injunctions. 

The legislature passed an alternative, Initiative 42A, and the original initiative died by a 51.66 percent to 46.98 percent margin. The difference between those who voted for approval of 42 and the alternative was 8,933 votes or about two percentage points. Ultimately, the alternative didn’t do enough damage to 42 to hasten its demise with voters.

Keeping Mississippi from enacting a program could likely be profitable for Arkansas. 

According to a story on KFSM TV in Arkansas, patients in the Natural State have spent $35.69 million on medical marijuana since sales began in May and 16 dispensaries are open in the state.