October 29, 2020 10:41:22 AM
Local officials voiced their opposition to the proposed Initiative 65, a state constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana, in a meeting at Lowndes County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday.
Sheriff Eddie Hawkins, Columbus-Lowndes County joint narcotics task force commander Capt. Brian Turner and District 39 Rep. Dana McLean (R-Columbus) raised multiple concerns, including that medical marijuana would not be regulated and lead to increased crime rates and addiction problems throughout the state. Beth Hamilton, a representative for Mississippi State Board of Health member Jim Perry of Jackson, was also present.
"There's nobody that can convince me, with 25 years of experience working narcotics, that marijuana is not a gateway drug," Hawkins said. "I see the potential for problems, just like they're seeing in other states ... that have legalized medical use marijuana and/or recreational use marijuana."
But Jamie Grantham, communications director for the Medical Marijuana 2020 Campaign that advocates for 65, told The Dispatch medical marijuana would be regulated like any other medication under the proposed amendment and that in states with similar medical marijuana laws there had been no significant impact on crime.
"Crime rates do not increase," she said. "This is a medical program for patients to have an alternative treatment option under the care of their doctors in a regulated program."
The proposed amendment would allow the Mississippi State Department of Health to issue licenses for treatment centers to dispense medical marijuana to patients with a state-issued medical marijuana identification card. Under the conditions of the amendment, patients must receive a physician certification and have one of 22 debilitating medical conditions to receive an ID.
The state board of health has opposed Initiative 65. Hamilton said board members do not want to regulate it and pointed out the amendment allows doctors to hand out certifications if they think the patient needs one for an illness similar to the 22 listed.
"If you're in Mississippi and you want marijuana, and you don't really qualify on any of those, you're going to be able to get your hands on it," Hamilton said.
More than 30 states throughout the country have already legalized medical marijuana, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida and Oklahoma. Reports from the National Institute of Health have said that while there has not been much research on medical marijuana, what data there is does not indicate that legalization causes higher crime rates.
When voicing his opposition to the amendment, Hawkins said he's specifically studied Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use, saying it has seen higher crime rates, more traffic accidents and other problems. He said he does not see any difference between that and Initiative 65.
"What's to keep that person that's got medical marijuana from going to work and driving a forklift?" he said.
He raised issues ranging from whether law enforcement would be able to tell whether a suspect had received marijuana legally from a dispensary to how patients would keep their medical marijuana away from children and caregivers. He also questioned whether patients would know what was in the marijuana, pointing out specifically that in recent years, narcotics officers have seized increasing amounts of marijuana and cannabinoids laced with other more potent substances such as fentanyl.
Grantham argued Colorado could not be compared to Mississippi, and that Medical Marijuana 2020 had looked to other states with medical marijuana bills to craft the amendment.
"Colorado, that's a recreational state," she said. "Nobody wants that here, and that is not a model program, clearly, because it's recreational."
Further, she argued, MSDH regulation of medical marijuana would reassure users of what ingredients are in the product and keep them from turning to those illegal products on the street that are potentially laced with other illicit substances. The medication would come in packaging designed by MSDH, and both patients and their caregivers would be issued special medical identification cards by the state and be entered into a state database. Abuse by caregivers, children and other non-patients would still be illegal, she said, as would driving impaired.
Moreover, she argued, the issue of medical marijuana should be a decision between doctors and patients, without the interference of politicians.
"These are patients with cancer and ALS and kids with seizures," she said. "They need another option. This should not be political. This puts it into the doctor's office and not into politicians' offices."
To read the proposed amendment, go to the Secretary of State website at this link: https://www.sos.ms.gov/content/InitiativesPDF/Proposed%20Initiative%20Measure.pdf
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