JACKSON, Miss. (WLOX) - State health officials are responding to the news that an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi will be put to voters later this year.
The Mississippi State Board of Health released a statement Thursday to talk about the “potential harmful consequences” that medical marijuana could have on people’s health if approved.
“Don’t be fooled, this proposal is not about medicine and it’s not about parents with cancer or kids with epilepsy,” said the statement released by the State Board of Health.
Ballot initiative 65, which would legalize medical marijuana for specific illnesses, is set to appear on ballots throughout the Magnolia State in November 2020.
The State Board of Health is warning voters that despite being marketed as a substance that could help people with certain conditions, the initiative is too broad and could have dire consequences.
“On November 3rd, we urge you to vote ‘no’ on the marijuana constitutional amendment,” stated the Mississippi Board of Health in its public statement.
Initiative 65 would actually amend Mississippi’s constitution if passed, taking the decision away from legislators and putting it in the hands of voters.
Health officials warn that the proposed amendment is vague and would allow marijuana to be smoked or vaped, despite state and federal health officials spending millions of dollars to prevent the public from doing those things.
Health officials say the proposal would allow marijuana to be used for broad and nonspecific reasons, which would lead to more use of the drug than what is being stated by proponents of the initiative.
“Studies have shown that marijuana use negatively affects individuals’ processing speed, reasoning, executive function and memory,” said the statement. “A ‘no’ vote on this amendment would keep Mississippians safer at work and on our roads.”
One of the main reasons health officials do not want to see this initiative passed, they said, is due to a lack of information.
“There is much we don’t know about marijuana. For instance, a decade ago, there appeared to be a decrease in opioid use in states that legalized marijuana. But recent research from the National Institutes of Health shows that states with medical marijuana laws have a higher overdose death rate. Moreover, unlike FDA approved medicines, marijuana is not consistent; one ounce may be stronger or weaker than the next. But this constitutional amendment enshrines the assumption that up to 2.5 ounces every 14 days is what a patient needs,” according to the written statement.
Adding to the potential for increasing illegal drug use, the health department warns of concerns affecting people from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as causing conflicting issues with the administrative procedures that would be needed to govern the legalization of medical marijuana.
“Beyond public health issues, we recognize there are other concerns about the amendment. These include furthering racial or income disparities, negative impacts on local government control, and a lack of normal government accountability measures. As members of the State Board of Health, we were appointed, not elected, to our positions; this constitutional amendment would put the Board of Health in charge of everything from setting and collecting taxes on marijuana to deciding where it can be grown and how the tax revenue is spent. This would all be done without any oversight, either from a governor or the legislature. This is not appropriate under our system of government.”
The FDA has approved several drugs derived from marijuana and its CBD or THC components that are already being legally used in Mississippi.
Epidiolex, which contains purified CBD, can be used to treat seizures. Marinol and Syndros, which contain THC, are used by AIDS and cancer patients. Cesamet, which has a chemical structure similar to marijuana, is used to treat the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Those drugs can be obtained with a doctor’s prescription and come in pill form, said health officials, noting that tests and research have been done to ensure those drugs are safe and effective.
“We are hopeful that other drugs can be researched, developed and approved. At a board hearing in December, we were made aware by experts of some of the positive steps that could be taken to make additional safe medicines available.”
For now, health officials simply say more information is needed about medical marijuana and how they affect individual health issues. Once that is known, elected representatives should be able to change the state’s laws to work better for the people, said the State Board of Health. By changing the constitution, it would prevent lawmakers from being able to do that.