Lafayette County Sheriff Joey East and Oxford Police Department Chief Jeff McCutchen took a stance at a press conference on Tuesday against ballot Initiative 65, which will legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi if passed in November.
Some members of the medical community also spoke at the press conference, which State Sen. Nicole Boyd and Rep. Clay Deweese helped organize.
Initiative 65 will appear on ballots on Nov. 3 alongside a similar initiative, 65A. Voters will have the option to vote if they think a medical marijuana program should exist in Mississippi, and then they will also vote “yes” or “no” on Initiative 65 and 65A.
“When you look at the ballot, it will say, ‘Are you for or against any kind of medical marijuana program,’ and you can vote against — I hope everybody votes against — but as a safeguard, you can vote for 65A so if the vote (for a medical marijuana program) passes, then you’ll get 65A instead of 65,” Beth Hamilton, member of the State Executive Committee for the Mississippi Republican Party, said at the press conference.
Initiative 65, if passed, would create a system of self-funded medical marijuana growing operations and dispensaries administered by the Mississippi State Department of Health for patients who qualify by having one of 22 listed conditions and a consultation with a medical doctor. Patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces at once, and a sales tax rate of 7% would be placed on medical marijuana sales.
Initiative 65A would only allow terminally ill patients to smoke marijuana and does not have specifications for qualifying conditions, possession limits, sales taxes or administering agencies. Funds for medical marijuana would come from the state under 65A, rather than a self-funded system.
Under Mississippi law, the state legislature can propose an alternative to any initiative that the public decides to put on the ballot. Jamie Grantham, communications director for Medical Marijuana 2020, said the state legislature introduced Initiative 65A as a means to confuse voters and take away votes that would help get Initiative 65 passed.
Grantham noted that the state legislature has blocked over 20 bills that would have created a medical marijuana program from reaching the floor for a vote over the past 10 years.
“They have robbed the voters of a fair, up or down vote — a fair yes or no vote — they robbed the voters of that,” Grantham said. “More than 228,000 signatures were gathered to put Initiative 65 on the ballot. We did everything fair and square.”
Initiative 65 would allow medical marijuana users to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana at a time. One study from the National Institute of Health found that the average joint contains .66 grams of marijuana. By this metric, 2.5 ounces of marijuana would equal around 107 joints.
McCutchen speculated that a patient would need to smoke around ten joints per day every two weeks to keep up with the 2.5 ounces they are allowed to possess through Initiative 65, which he believes would lead to the unused joints making their way into the community.
“In Oxford, just a couple of years ago, we were seeing a spike in prescription drugs and it falling into the hands of kids,” McCutchen said. “The state then put together a program and dropbox so that you could come in and give your unused medication and put it in these boxes. What’s going to happen with 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks?”
Dr. Ed Hill, a member of the Mississippi Board of Health, said that Initiative 65 was not about making actual medicine available to Mississippians because there are already four drugs available that contain derivatives of the THC and CBD components in marijuana.
“You can get these from a physician by prescription, and scientific research has shown that each one of these four drugs is safe and would work on this specific symptom it was designed for,” Hill said.
Grantham said most drugs that contain derivatives of THC and CBD are used to treat nausea in cancer patients, but they aren’t used very often because they are synthetic drugs that patients have to take orally, which often does not help with nausea.
“They’re not widely used because they just don’t work that well,” Grantham said.
East said that Initiative 65 is “about addiction for profit,” money and power.
“Those that support it are under the belief that money sowed from this medical marijuana will go back to help health care, to help us with mental health, help with addiction, our education system, our roads and our bridges; this is absolutely false,” East said.
Although Initiative 65, if passed, would create a 7% sales tax on all medical marijuana sales, the businesses would still be self-funded.
“65 was written in a conservative way so that the program is self-funded,” Grantham said. “65A, however, the burden is on the taxpayers to pay for the whole thing, but that’s not consistent with other medical programs.”
Grantham said she was frustrated that the medical marijuana debate in Mississippi has taken what she sees as a political turn when the conversation should be more focused on critically ill patients’ healthcare.
“This is not political; these are people’s lives,” Grantham said. “I talk to people every day who say they would do anything to help their loved one, anything.”