Marijuana laws have been changing across all 50 states recently. To date, 34 states and Washington, D.C. have made medical marijuana available, allowing 3.5 million Americans with a proper diagnosis to use it for the reduction of symptoms associated with debilitating diseases. Patient numbers in most states with medical marijuana programs range from .06 to 3.5% of their populations.
Mississippi will have two Initiatives on the ballot this November, both of which propose the legal use of medical marijuana for patients with an approved diagnosis. The City of Quitman Board of Alderman voted unanimously to oppose both Initiatives - Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A. I was given a directive to publish the Board’s action. On a personal level, I support the benefits that medical marijuana can provide and have seen how it can curb serious side effects of cancer and associated treatments. However, both of these Initiatives seem filled with gray areas, limiting my personal desire to support them. Additionally, Initiatives 65 and 65A – as they are worded – will undoubtedly lead to confusion and problems with enforcement.
Below, I will offer an abbreviated explanation of the Initiatives and potential shortcomings.
• Controlled by Mississippi Dept of Health – an unelected body controlling the use of marijuana – which our Ag Commissioner Andy Gibson opposes. .
• Written by two legislative leaders. One of those leaders gave $500,000 to market the Initiative putting into question his reasons.
• The cost to implement this program is approximately $59 million as estimated by the Legislative Budget Office. The projected revenue is $13 million annually.
• 22 health issues, including cancer, have been identified for medical marijuana card – which costs $50. It is possible that those 22 health issues can be expanded, possibly leading to expanded use of marijuana.
• With expanded use, how can we limit the use of the card as a “Get Out of Jail” card. For example, what is a police officer to do if he/she stops 3 cars for suspected marijuana possession, all have 2.5oz of marijuana, but one of the 3 cars has the card?
• What should an employer do if their employee tests positive for marijuana? Currently municipalities all over the state dismiss or fire employees who test positive for drug use. What if the employee has the card? Are they not dismissed now? Will it be a violation of the employee’s rights if the employer asks for proof and explanation of the card?
• Unknown which agency will control medical marijuana as it will be determined by the legislative body at a later time.
• No guidelines for use offered other than to indicate that the medical community will need to offer them.
• Limitations are spelled out for terminally ill patients smoking marijuana, but there is no discussion of cannabis oil.
• 6 of the 7 provisions outlining the implementation of medical marijuana use are yet to be determined. Those provisions will be decided by the legislature at a future date, so the voter does not have a clear idea of how it will be implemented.
• Initiative 65A has been proposed as an alternative choice but the legislative leader proposing it has not invested money to clearly define the choice or market it.
OVERALL, the ballot for these Initiatives is very difficult to understand and many voters may think their vote is for one specific thing. However, because the Initiatives are unclear or underdeveloped, the voter may end up voting for something they do not support. I urge everyone to get a copy of the ballot and read it closely. We should be able to expect transparency regarding what we are voting for and how money collected will be used. For example, could the revenue collected be used in our schools to combat drug use by teenagers? At this point, all we know is that 86% of the revenue will go to the state. We have no clear idea of where the rest will be spent. Either way, medical marijuana is not a moneymaker as is being reported by the sponsors of the two Initiatives.
This is an important change being offered our citizens – one that should not be taken lightly. Research and clear development of the Initiatives should be completed. It is up to you personally to decide if it has been done. Our Aldermen have decided that it is not clear enough and have voted against both.