TUPELO • With fewer than eight weeks until the Nov. 3 election, a Tupelo physician and a local veteran are publicly encouraging voters to support a citizen-sponsored initiative that would legalize medical marijuana use in Mississippi.
Mississippians for Compassionate Care, the organization behind the state’s current medical marijuana legalization efforts, hosted a press conference on Thursday afternoon outlining their case for why voters should support Initiative 65, which will appear on November’s ballot.
Dr. Matt Wesson, a physician based in Tupelo, serves on the steering committee for the group advocating for the initiative’s passage. Wesson told the Daily Journal he became convinced several years ago that medical marijuana should be legalized when he had a friend suffering from cancer who used medical marijuana to treat pain.
According to Wesson, marijuana was more effective for his friend than opiates.
“By the time someone needs medical marijuana, they are sick,” Wesson said.
The proposed ballot initiative would only allow Mississippian to use medical marijuana only if they have one of 22 “debilitating” medical conditions. A state physician must certify a patient as suffering from one of the medical conditions, after which the patient would receive a medical marijuana ID card from the Mississippi State Department of Health. This would allow them to purchase medical marijuana from a state-regulated treatment center.
Medical marijuana use is legal in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, and under the initiative, the state health department would regulate most of the distribution of the medical marijuana.
Thursday’s event follows a few weeks after Oxford psychiatrist Katherine Pannel, state board of health member Jim Perry and Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson held a press conference announcing their opposition to the initiative, claiming it would pose a burden on law enforcement and place regulation of the drug in the state Constitution rather than in the hands of state legislators.
However, Wesson said that state leaders have had ample opportunity to pass a law to legalize medical marijuana but have repeatedly failed to do so.
“The Legislature had their chance, and they blew it,” Wesson said. “So proponents of this went out and got over 220,000 signatures and they got Initiative 65 on the ballot. They studied the bills in the 34 other states that have medical marijuana.”
Earlier this year, Mississippians for Compassionate Care gathered the required number of signatures to place an initial on the ballot for voter approval.
November’s ballot will feature two medical marijuana initiatives. This past session, the Legislature introduced an alternative initiative to the one that Mississippians for Compassionate Care drafted. The Legislature’s alternative version, Initiative 65A, is more regulated than the original initiative.
Mississippians will have the option to either vote for the original initiative, vote for the alternative initiative, or oppose both initiatives.
Wesson said that alternative initiative is an attempt by lawmakers to confuse voters and not a true alternative solution.
“It is absolutely a hollow amendment thrown together at the last minute to confuse folks,” he said.
Cody Weaver, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a business owner who lives in Saltillo, said he believes medical marijuana could be a viable treatment option for veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder
“Everybody should have the option to allow their physician to certify whether or not they believe medical marijuana would be a viable treatment solution,” Weaver said.