Members of the Mississippi State Board of Health have sent out a letter urging people to vote against the medical marijuana constitutional amendment this coming November.
The letter, which was published in the Commonwealth Friday, was signed by 10 board members. It said the proposed amendment would allow the use of marijuana and its derivatives such as cannabidiol “for broad and non-specific reasons.” It added that the amendment “would allow for much more marijuana use than the limited examples often cited by the amendment’s proponents.”
The board members also dislike the provision in the amendment that specifically puts the state 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.”
And the letter suggested that the initiative is unneeded, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved several drugs, in pill form, that are derived from marijuana with more in the pipeline.
The board’s reservations about the amendment are understandable, especially the reluctance for what essentially is a health-care agency to take on duties that would be better handled elsewhere, such as by the Department of Revenue.
Reservations about allowing patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for medical treatment also are understandable. It is a big step for this conservative state to consider the partial legalization of a drug that for decades has been described as the first substance used by many eventual drug addicts, the one many parents warned their children to avoid.
The Board of Health says that more research needs to be done on the medical effects of marijuana and its offshoots. That’s true, but the board then makes the mistake of trotting out the warning that marijuana “negatively affects individuals’ processing speed, reasoning, executive function and memory.” Just like alcohol — which happens to be legal.
However, the most glaring flaw in the board’s letter is the contention that Mississippi’s elected representatives should be able to change the law. If voters approve the amendment, it will be part of the Constitution, and changing it would require the time-consuming process of another amendment.
This is the Legislature’s fault. Although there have been a few legislature backers for medical marijuana, including one wealthy Republican, Rep. Joel Bomgar of Madison, who has bankrolled the lion’s share of the initiative drive, it chose not to address medical marijuana in any substantial way. Thus its advocates, including not just Bomgar but cancer patients seeking pain relief and parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy, stepped up.
Most likely, lawmakers have avoided this issue because they fear negative reaction from voters. You can’t fault them for that: Plenty of people would object to the legalization of marijuana for medical care, and would not consider the obvious difference between that and making the drug legal for recreational use.
It’s not too late, however, for the Legislature to interject itself. Under Mississippi’s initiative process, when a proposal gets enough signatures to land on the ballot, the Legislature has the option of adding an alternative to be considered by voters as well.
The proposed amendment will add hundreds of words to the state Constitution. It reads much more like a bill, with plenty of specifics and details, than it does the general policy outlines typical of a constitutional provision.
If the public wants medical marijuana, lawmakers should consider whether they really want to exclude themselves from deciding how it’s regulated now and into the future.