Wyatt Emmerich: Medical marijuana initiative could help curb opioid problem

 

Wyatt Emmerich

 

 

Joel Bomgar, successful tech entrepreneur and state representative from Madison, is leading the charge to bring medical marijuana to Mississippi.

 

It's a personal crusade from Bomgar, whose smarts and drive make any project of his likely to succeed. He watched both his parents suffer pain and nausea as they battled cancer. He doesn't want anybody in Mississippi to suffer the way they did.

 

"I lost both of my parents to cancer at a young age, both after long battles with cancer and in spite of being on the very best chemotherapy available," Bomgar told me. "Even though they were both on the best opioid painkillers on the market, both of my parents died in extreme pain and constant nausea as the cancer cells took over and shut down their bodies from the inside. No one should have to watch someone they love pass away in that much pain and agony. This initiative would make a very real difference in so many people's lives and also help curb the devastating opioid epidemic."

 

 

Bomgar has put $600,000 of his own money into the Medical Marijuana 2020 initiative. He has raised another $1.2 million, which led to the successful submission of about 86,185 signatures to the Secretary of State (12 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election before the initiative.) The initiative is on track for appearing on the 2020 Mississippi election ballot.

 

Bomgar told me only 20 percent of the funding has come from national groups.

 

Polls are showing 65 percent of Mississippians support medical marijuana. It's very likely this will pass.

 

Louisiana and Arkansas recently passed medical marijuana, Louisiana through the state legislature and Arkansas through a ballot initiative like Bomgar is attempting.

 

Bomgar studied all the medical marijuana laws in the 33 states. He says Mississippi's law will be much different than Arkansas and Louisiana, where a limited number of companies are selected by the government to supply the cannabis.

 

Bomgar's plan is to have the Mississippi Department of Health regulate medical marijuana, but to allow any enterprise meeting the qualifications to enter the new business. This is a much different approach that Bomgar believes will actually deliver results. Arkansas and Louisiana are still floundering to get medical marijuana off the ground.

 

The initiative would require a licensed physician to prescribe medical marijuana for specific illnesses. Bomgar has no appetite for recreational legalization, a view he believes most Mississippians share. (There are several initiative efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in Mississippi led by other groups.)

 

Bomgar believes his initiative will quickly allow 15,000 or so Mississippians to get prescriptions, improving their lives. He cites studies that show a 25 percent decrease in opioid deaths in states that have effectively implemented medical marijuana.

 

There are about 350 opioid deaths a year in Mississippi, so a 25 percent reduction would save 75 lives a year.

 

The text of the initiative is as follows:

 

Initiative Measure No. 65 proposes to amend the Mississippi Constitution to allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana. This amendment would allow medical marijuana to be provided only by licensed treatment centers. The Mississippi State Department of Health would regulate and enforce the provisions of this amendment.

 

It is a strange aspect of Mississippi's initiative law that any initiatives can only change the state constitution rather than the state statutes. Of the 30 states that allow public initiatives, only three states limit it only to constitutional amendments. This is too bad. You really don't want something as specific as medical marijuana as part of the state constitution. It should be a new law. But that's the way it's set up in Mississippi.

 

Here's the list of conditions that will be allowed to be treated with medical marijuana: cancer, epilepsy or other seizures, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cachexia, post-traumatic stress disorder, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, chronic or debilitating pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, glaucoma, agitation of dementias, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, sickle-cell anemia, autism with aggressive or self-injurious behaviors, pain refractory to appropriate opioid management, spinal cord disease or severe injury, intractable nausea, severe muscle spasticity, and similar diseases.

 

If you go to https://www.medicalmarijuana2020.com/faq, you will find a huge amount of information on medical marijuana, including dozens of medical studies showing the effectiveness of medical marijuana in the treatment of dozens of illnesses and diseases. The FAQ goes into great detail about how the law will work in Mississippi.

 

I asked Bomgar, a state representative, why medical marijuana isn't being addressed through the normal legislative process. He said it's just a hot potato issue and legislators would rather the voters decide this one directly. Kind of like the state flag issue. Politicians hate to be forced to take a stand on controversial issues that might alienate blocks of votes.

 

The Center for Disease Control says there were 70,237 opioid deaths in the United States in 2017. Opioids, after all, are just medical heroin. Meanwhile, nobody has ever died of a medical marijuana overdose.

 

This seems like a no-brainer to me.

 

 

Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

 

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