At the polls on Nov. 3, Mississippians will decide whether Mississippi will become the 35th state to legalize medical marijuana. On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson hosted the first of five public hearings regarding Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A at the Ford Center at UM.
Watson said he hopes these hearings will educate voters and resolve any confusion regarding the two choices.
Cody Weaver, a disabled Navy veteran, spoke in support of Initiative 65, which includes a proposed program start date, list of qualifying medical conditions, legal protection for patients and doctors and regulation. Initiative 65A includes none of those specifications.
Weaver said he thinks that after more than 228,000 Mississippians signed the petition to qualify Initiative 65, the state legislature decided to put Initiative 65A on the ballot in an attempt to confuse voters.
“The Mississippi legislator never actually passed a true competing option for a program, just competing paperwork,” Weaver said. “65A is a ghost measure that does not even include a list of qualifying medical conditions or even a program start date.”
Weaver said he believes Initiative 65 is the only choice to ensure medical marijuana to thousands of Mississippi patients and veterans who have run out of options.
“Initiative 65 would give immediate relief to veterans who are suffering from PTSD and chronic pain, and to children with seizures,” Weaver said. “(Initiative) 65A offers no guarantees that relief will ever come.”
Jim Perry, a member of the Mississippi Board of Health since July 2019, is against Initiative 65. He understands why medical marijuana is appealing, but said Initiative 65 is not the right way to legalize it.
“They’re pushing this because their goal is to make as much money as possible with as few restrictions as possible to get to sell (in) as many places as possible with the lowest taxes as possible,” Perry said.
Perry also said medicinal marijuana should not be taxed less than alcohol, casinos and tobacco because they are all entities that profit off of addiction.
“If there’s so much we don’t know (about marijuana), why are we so confident to enshrine this stuff in the state constitution?” Perry said. “And the self-funded aspect, I think it’s a negative.”
Community members were given the opportunity to speak for five minutes each to express their opinions on Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A. All nine speakers were in favor of Initiative 65; two of them were doctors.
Dr. Matt Weston, a physician surgeon who has been practicing in Tupelo for 43 years, said voters should trust the physicians who helped write Initiative 65, not the politicians who put 65A on the ballot.
“If I were a lawmaker, I would be ashamed of 65A,” Weston said. “The people of Mississippi have made their will clear, but the politicians have tried to defeat them with this hollow amendment.”
Weston also said studies have shown that when medical marijuana is voted in, opioid-related deaths and prescriptions written for opiates decrease. One 2019 report from the National Center for Biotechnology information found that opioid related overdoses and hospitalizations went down in states with medical marijuana programs, though opioid use among cannabis users did increase. The report concluded that more research needs to be done to determine the impact of medical marijuana in opioid use.
“We as physicians don’t hesitate to offer opioids to patients who are truly in need of it,” Weston said. “Why not offer them a different medication, marijuana, that works better for many patients and does not have tremendous addiction problems.”
Lafayette County Sheriff Joey East spoke in favor of Initiative 65A, but he said most importantly that he is against Initiative 65. Like Perry, he believes Initiative 65 is about greed, not the health and wellness of Mississippi.
“Initiative 65 is not about medical marijuana, but addiction for profit,” East said.
Jamie Grantham, Medical Marijuana 2020 communications director, said Initiative 65A does not require the legislature to ever put a medical marijuana program together.
“Even though medical marijuana is helping patients in 34 other states, our legislature has continually sent a very clear message to patients here in Mississippi,” Grantham said. “And they did it again when they put 65A on the ballot.”
Grantham said medical marijuana is a compassion issue, not a political issue.
“I ask you to think about what other options there are, at this point, if it was your child seizing uncontrollably and you had no way to help them, and medications weren’t working,” Grantham said. “Or if it were your parent or loved one, or even yourself suffering from nausea and pain from chemotherapy.”
Initiative 65 will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot, as well as Initiative 65A. Voters will have the option to vote if they think a medical marijuana program should exist in Mississippi, and then vote “yes” or “no” on Initiative 65 and 65A. The panel discussion was recorded and can be viewed on YouTube.