Guest Column By: Betsey Hamilton
Through the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed being involved and proactively promoting my city, my county, my region and my state. I feel like most of you who know me, know that I would not support anything that would adversely affect them. However, as the days go by, I am becoming more and more concerned about Initiative 65 and its potential impact on the places I love. Recently, because I wanted to make an informed decision, I have immersed myself in research of medical marijuana in other states and our Initiative 65. I am extremely disturbed by what I have found especially as it pertains to our state and its communities.
On November 3rd, along with many other votes, we will determine the future of medical marijuana in Mississippi. There are two versions of a medical marijuana amendment on our ballot regarding its use. Initiative 65 is an indirect citizen sponsored Constitutional Amendment and 65A is a legislative alternative.
There is NO doubt this vote is confusing. There are two parts. One part is “For Approval of EITHER measure” or “Against BOTH” and the second is “FOR” Initiative 65 or Initiative 65A. On the first part, I voted “Against BOTH”. Because I want ‘neither’ to be in our constitution, I do not want them to pass. On the second part, I voted “FOR Initiative 65A” because if ‘Either’ in the first part passes, I had rather have Initiative 65A. Simply put, I ‘filled in’ the TWO BOTTOM BUBBLES and here’s WHY.
Many of us approach our decisions based on life experiences, beliefs, values and priorities. I happen to feel that the time has come for our legislators to address medical marijuana and create laws in a thoughtful, sensible way that serve our citizens who are in need as well as our cities and state. This is a legitimate issue. However, giving the massive $13 billion out-of-state marijuana industry special protections that no other product has and enshrining regulations written by outsiders into our Constitution is not the way to go and there will be no turning back.
- I am concerned that Mississippi’s Medical Marijuana Initiative is brought to us not by our legislators but by a HUGE Marijuana Industry, bigger than the NFL. This support is pouring in to Mississippi from Washington D.C, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, Washington, New York, Illinois, Georgia, Nevada, Colorado, California, Oregon, Missouri, Arizona, Louisiana and Arkansas in amounts from $250 – $100,000s. This initiative has amassed over $5 million with donors and supporters who represent lots of attorneys, consultants, Marijuana Legislation PACs, growers, cannabis dispensaries, venture capitalists and others. With no taxation for our towns and state, who do you think will benefit from our local ‘main streets’?
- I am concerned that as we learn more about health issues and marijuana’s effects on them, our elected officials will not be able to change laws to make them work better for our citizens. Legalizing marijuana in a constitutional amendment would essentially prevent that since changes would require another initiative rather than updating a state statute if it were not in the Constitution. Major policies always need fine tuning in future years as things change, thus the placement of such in our Constitution is totally inappropriate.
- I am concerned that the only taxation for Mississippi is an amount equal to 7% which will go to the Mississippi Department of Health as Big Marijuana has determined they will be responsible for overseeing and running this program. This is less than our tobacco and alcohol tax. Other states with marijuana have varying rates: Oregon – 17%, Nevada – 25%, Colorado – 30% and Washington – 37%. It simply makes no sense to me that with such a big industry we will receive no funds for education, highways, law enforcement or mental health.
- I am concerned that local governments will have no control over the location of dispensaries. Other more progressive states have more lenient restrictions than Mississippi will have. Our cities will not have the right to “opt-out” or stop marijuana shops from locating in our towns if citizens decide they do not want them. California and Colorado allow cities to do just that. But Mississippi will be governed by the laws of Big Marijuana, not by citizens.
- I am concerned that there will be no limit as to how many dispensaries there can be in a city or county. The State of Oklahoma has over 2,200 dispensaries/pot shops. A comparison number in Mississippi would yield 20 per county. Louisiana has only licensed 9 dispensaries in the entire state. We should be learning from other states what works best and what doesn’t work, not what works best for Big Marijuana.
- I am concerned that the lack of zoning regulations in Initiative 65 allows for pot shops to be closer to our schools, churches, and parks than our tobacco, beer and alcohol businesses which our officials regulate. Once again, we will turn over our local rights to outsiders.
- I am concerned that the outsiders who wrote this amendment have assigned the Mississippi State Department of Health responsibilities far beyond the scope and mission of the Agency to include oversight of the production of marijuana, product processing and tax collection. Yet the Mississippi State Board of Health has expressed its strong opposition to Initiative 65.
I am concerned that while I understand that marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for a number of debilitating medical conditions, one of which my grandmother had, Initiative 65 will also permit physicians to issue certifications for other conditions not so specific such as “another condition of the same type” and “chronic or debilitation pain”. Each of these are so subjective that doors can open for unscrupulous physicians and patients to easily abuse the law.
As I previously stated, I very much believe our state needs a sensible medical marijuana law to treat those in need. That law should be researched thoroughly and carefully developed by our State Legislature so that through the years it will be easier to improve and adjust as needed. Initiative 65 will not allow for improvement.
In a 2013 article in the journal of Missouri Medicine, Samuel Wilkinson, MD reported “Medical Marijuana” should be subject to the same rigorous approval process as other medications prescribed by physicians. Bypassing the FDA and approving ‘medicine’ at the ballot box sets a dangerous precedent”. At this point in time without a doubt, I feel that voting “NO – Against BOTH” on Initiative 65 is the way to go and a vote “FOR” Initiative 65A will protect us.
Who do you trust? Big Marijuana or Mississippians who support “NO” on 65: American Family Association, Mississippi State Medical Association, American Medical Association, Mississippi Department of Health, Mississippi Realtors, Mississippi Psychiatric Association, Mississippi Municipal League, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Farm Bureau, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Mississippi Gastroenterology Society to name a few.
Initiative 65, Initiative 65A, medical marijuana