Supporters and opponents of the legalization of medical marijuana voiced their concerns during a public hearing in Greenwood this week.
Secretary of State Michael Watson and his office hosted the hearing Thursday night at the Leflore County Civic Center regarding two items on the Nov. 3 ballot: Initiative Measure No. 65 and Alternative Measure No. 65A.
A panel of four speakers provided analyses of the measures, and members of the public also spoke.
“This is an initiative that’s important to our future. If you are for or against it, it’s good to have people who care enough to come out and educate all Mississippians,” Watson said.
The first part of the conversation concerned Measure 65. If passed, the measure would amend the state’s constitution to make medical marijuana available to Mississippians with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and several other ailments.
The item was placed on the ballot following a petition drive that drew the required number of signatures.
Cody Weaver, a U.S. Navy veteran, spoke in its favor. He focused on the positive affects marijuana use has on veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses.
Edward “Ed” Langton, a Hattiesburg banker and member of the Mississippi State Board of Health, spoke against Measure No. 65, saying he believes medical marijuana would not be administered in an ethical business fashion and would also be a step toward allowing recreational use of the drug.
Then, the conversation turned to the alternative measure, 65A. The Legislature added the alternative in March because of disagreements with the content of the first initiative.
Under Measure 65, medical marijuana could be recommended for patients with at least one debilitating condition. It also lists specific prices and taxes needed for the program.
Alternative 65A does not specify qualifying conditions or a tax rate, leaving those issues to be resolved by legislators.
Voters will be asked whether they favor either of these or oppose both. Then they may select one or the other. If a majority of voters don’t support at least one of the two, both options are dead. If a majority of them do support at least one, the proposal that receives the most votes on the latter question passes.
Dr. Katherine Pannel, a psychiatrist who practices throughout North Mississippi, spoke in favor of the alternative. This, she said, would give lawmakers more time to further study the use of medical marijuana.
Jamie Grantham, a spokeswoman for Medical Marijuana 2020, spoke against Alternative Measure No. 65A. Her organization spearheaded the petition drive that put the initial legalization proposal on the ballot.
Grantham said the alternative acts as a “Trojan horse,” making voters think they are passing a more refined medical marijuana amendment when they are instead allowing politicians to have no guarantees or accountability on the matter.
In addition, Measure 65 does not require any increased tax dollar spending from the state, but this is not guaranteed in the alternative, Grantham said.
Following the panel presentation, six citizens from throughout the state shared views. All spoke in favor of Measure 65 and against Alternative Measure 65A.
One speaker, Jaleesa Willis — who is in a wheelchair due to paralysis — traveled from Cleveland to say that she would be voting for Measure 65 because it would give her more options to handle her disability.
“When you are paralyzed, with the nerves you can’t control in your body, THC does help that,” she said referring to the active ingredient in marijuana. “It would help me, and people like me, with their daily struggles.”
Brad Corban, a pastor from Cleveland, said that as a public religious figure, he has counseled many people with addictions, including addictions to prescription opioids, but he has never seen a community member suffer from an addiction to marijuana.
He said he believes the use of marijuana as a medicinal supplement could help heal those more effectively than the current use of prescribed drugs.
Watson told the group he always enjoys seeing citizens concerned about the matters on which they will vote. He encourages all citizens to do their own detailed research on the ballot items.
This was the second stop Watson has made on this public hearing tour. The first was in Oxford, and the next stops include Hattiesburg, Meridian and Jackson.
•Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW