Marijuana on ballot next month
A push for a constitutional amendment that will legalize the distribution of medical marijuana in Mississippi has leaders split, including some from Neshoba.
According to Initiative 65, smoking and vaping marijuana would be made legal in Mississippi for medical purposes. Proponents argue cannabis possesses medicinal effects that can ease pain and help suffering patients relax.
Voters will be able to approve or disapprove of Initiative 65 this November.
Rep. Scott Bounds, a Republican from Philadelphia, is against the initiative. He noted that if put in the constitution and ratified, and then problems arise, there would be nothing the Legislature could do to change it, and the issues would have to be corrected with another initiative.
“Initiative 65 puts the use of medical marijuana in the state constitution, and it doesn’t need to go in there,” Bounds said. “I understand the pain relief aspect of medical marijuana, but there’s a better way to do it than 65. Let the state establish a program for it.”
Bounds said that to his understanding, there’s no other state that has the use of a controlled substance in their constitution, and he doesn’t believe Mississippi needs to start it.
“I do support Initiative 65A, the alternative to Initiative 65, because that would allow the state to set up a state-run program,” he said. “We need a program for this, not a constitutional change. Elected representatives of the people should design it.”
Bounds urges people to read the initiative for a better understanding of the proposal.
“People need to read the initiative,” he said. “It’s seven pages long, and can be found on the secretary of state’s website.”
Neshoba County Sheriff Eric Clark is against medical marijuana being legalized from a law enforcement perspective.
“I see issues with a growing number of impaired drivers because of marijuana being available, and deputies will have to be trained in more advanced field sobriety testing techniques,” Clark said.
Clark feels that this new amendment will cause more teenage use of marijuana, which may lead to abuse.
“I also think of small petty issues such as public complaints due to the smell of burning marijuana,” he said. “If you allow a person to posses 2.5 ounces of marijuana in a 14-day period for personal use, you’re setting the stage for disaster.”
Mississippi Department of Health board member Jim Perry of Jackson and a Philadelphia native was just as concerned after looking more into what the drug does to your body after a lot of exposure to it.
“We learned what marijuana does to you physically and mentally,” Perry said. “It’ll be just as harmful as smoking a cigarette, which we know well by now causes significant lung damage.”
Perry hopes the state Legislature will be given more time to study and research medical marijuana to find better and effective ways to harness its medicinal properties rather than smoking or vaping it.
“Big Marijuana is trending now, just like Big Tobacco did back in the fifties and sixties,” he said. “They put up billboards advertising tobacco and said smoking was good for you. It turns out it wasn’t, and it causes lung damage. Smoking marijuana is no different. Just because it has medicinal effects doesn’t mean it’s good for you when you smoke it.”
Jamie Grantham, communications director for the Medical Marijuana Campaign for 2020, is all for legalized medical marijuana.
“I’m for this because it’s another option to help patients who are suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, or epilepsy, just to name a few,” Grantham said. “For something like Parkinson’s, the drug can calm a patient’s tremors and drastically reduce shaking.”
Grantham said medical marijuana can also help with cancer treatment if used correctly.
“The drug can help repress nausea if you smoke it, since nausea comes with cancer and edible pills or capsules won’t work,” she said. “I am a Christian and I feel that if God made the plants, and they’re used responsibly, how could you not make use of them?”
Another supporter of medical marijuana, Madison attorney Spencer Flatgard, originally drafted Initiative 65 and is a partner at Watkins and Eager Law Firm.
“We have data and proof that a lot of scenarios people are afraid of have not happened from the other 34 states that have legalized this drug,” Flatgard said. “We’re also limiting the amount you can get since we looked into other state limits and we don’t want people getting more than what they need.”
Flatgard said the usage of the drug will be in safe, controlled environments.
“People won't be able to go out in public and smoke it,” he said.
The voting for Initiative 65 or Alternative 65a will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. Initiative 65 is what Flatgard and proponents of medical marijuana drafted. Alternative 65a was written by the Legislature and opposes legalization.