Mississippi state health officer shares concerns about medical marijuana initiative

MS decision on medical marijuana

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Tuesday, Mississippi voters will decide whether their state will become the latest to adopt a medical marijuana program.

The state’s health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, is sharing his concerns and urging voters to do their homework before voting.

Two questions appear on the ballot.

Initiative 65 would put the Mississippi State Department of Health in charge of the state’s medical marijuana program with the final rules and regulations adopted by July 2021.

If Initiative 65 passes, medical marijuana I.D. cards would be available to patients with nearly two dozen debilitating conditions like epilepsy, cancer and ALS.

State lawmakers have proposed an alternative, Initiative 65A.

It would limit marijuana to only those who are terminally ill, sets no timeline on when the program must be established and doesn’t say which agency would oversee it.

Initiative 65A also gives state lawmakers the power to change the program as needed.

Jamie Grantham is with Mississippians for Compassionate Care, which is pushing for Initiative 65.

“Thirty four other states have regulated medical marijuana programs and millions of patients are receiving relief through those programs, and there is zero reason why patients who are suffering here in Mississippi should have to wait any longer for medical marijuana,” Grantham said. “Initiative 65 is a conservative program, and it would actually produce a program. There is a start date. This is a list of medical conditions. It puts the decisions in the hands of patients and their physicians, not the politicians.”

But Dobbs calls Initiative 65 “the Wild West” and he says although it puts his agency in charge of a medical marijuana program, the way it’s written makes it almost unregulatable.

“If you look at the way Initiative 65 is structured, it would put marijuana in the [Mississippi] constitution and all the rules that are laid within that initiative are going to be in the constitution and we can’t change,” Dobbs said.

Dobbs also says implementing Initiative 65, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, would be disruptive to his department.

Dobbs says he prefers 65A.

“At least if we had a 65A alternative if you wanted medical marijuana, you could at least have it structured in a way that allowed for evolution. It would allow for correction of any sort of missteps that go through the process. It would allow for more input and how it’s operated,” Dobbs said.

Dobbs says he’s not telling people how to vote but wants them to do their homework.

That’s especially important because the initiative appears as a two-step process on the ballot.

Voters will first be asked if they approve of either initiative.

They can also vote against both.

They’ll then be asked which initiative they support if the first question passes.

For either initiative to pass, it not only needs a simple majority of votes but must also get 40 percent of the total votes cast.

The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police said more than 300 police chiefs have voiced opposition to both Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A. But if voters approve medical marijuana, they support Initiative 65A.

DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco says he opposes both initiatives.

“I’m opposed to both of them. I don’t think we need legal marijuana to be sold in the state of Mississippi,” Rasco said. “There are other drugs out there that doctors can recommend other than marijuana.”

Copyright 2020 WMC. All rights reserved.