Did you know the federal government has been growing marijuana in Mississippi for over 30 years? For government use? Not at some secret location on some Mississippi back road, but on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Tons and tons of the really good stuff, so good even the feds have got the munchies.
For those who wonder why the fed’s marijuana crops are in Oxford and how Mississippi State University in Starkville was left out of millions of dollars worth of government supported marijuana contracts, imaginary sources have provided the MBJ with a justification. It goes like this: Mississippi State merely instructs its students in regular old agriculture. Ole Miss, on the other hand, enlightens it students in “High Culture” agriculture.
The Dude would think everyone in the country is lighting up as much press as marijuana has been getting lately. Even President Obama weighed in on legalization over the weekend. You just know that guy inhaled and probably a lot more than once. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the feds just awarded Ole Miss a $70 million contract to grow even more marijuana.
The nationwide push for the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use may be nearing its zenith. Even Mississippi is proposing legalization in the upcoming statewide election. But Mississippi’s ballot initiative may have doomed itself by asking for too much too soon.
Last year, this columnist wrote about Mississippi’s need to jump out in front on industrial hemp. And that is where the focus should have been for this election year.
Instead we have Proposition 48: a ballot initiative that would not only legalize hemp production, but medical and recreational marijuana in Mississippi. Additionally, Prop 48 calls on the Mississippi governor to pardon all persons convicted of non-violent marijuana crimes. Wouldn’t you love to see Governor Bryant sign all of those pardons?
Non-violent drug offenders have no business being in prison. Our president suggested such cases should be addressed through a public health model. But as Mississippi’s former Department of Corrections director and his partner, the former Republican legislator, demonstrated, it’s much easier to run cozy no-bid contracts with no oversight using the incarceration model. The larger prison population has proven quite lucrative. Caring for just one prisoner cost taxpayers over $50,000 a year. By contrast, we pay less than $8,000 to educate a child in our public schools.
While plenty of people who voted for Bryant enjoy a good doobie, the part about pardoning is where Prop 48 supporters likely lost the conservative-pot-smoker vote. These well-heeled dope fiends have no problem finding the good stuff whenever they want it and for cheap. They know they’ll never wind up in prison for possession – mostly because they’re white – and these folks are not interested in seeing the poor users and dealers from the other side of the tracks getting out of jail anytime soon.
After all, the Pusher Men, as Curtis Mayfield called them, are a dime bag a dozen. There is always someone with little or no opportunity in life willing to risk hard time in prison and step up to sell whatever junk folks are willing to buy.
And we do buy it. Legal or not, we buy all sorts of drugs. But it is the illegality of it that creates problems world wide and in every neighborhood and small town in America. We must come to terms with that fact as we think about the drug trade and legalization.
Lest anyone think this an attempt to equate marijuana with other, harder drugs: It is. The same principles apply. It makes no difference whether cannabis is safer than other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. We know it is. It’s probably safer than excessive tweeting or Facebook posting.
Tobacco is no longer celebrated and promoted like alcohol. People know how bad smoking is for them. Still, it continues to ruin lives and cost us millions in healthcare. Alcohol is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives we hardly take notice anymore. My young son sees dozens of beer ads every time we watch a college football game on television. You think I might have trouble convincing him drinking is not good for him?
Our all too human cravings for that next, even better high, will always exist. We seek it out. It’s just an effort to have a little fun. Too often, however, it helps us cope with the dissatisfaction and pain of life.
“Just say no,” is what Nancy Reagan said years ago as the drug war was heating up. Everyone from diehard conservatives to squishy liberals made fun of our First Lady, but she broke it down better than anyone has before or since.
Drugs are always going to be there for us when we believe we need them. We can make it difficult for the average user. We’ve already made it illegal. And now drug gangs and narco-terrorists are part of our lives. Children have been killed in the crossfire, families and entire economies have been ruined. The only way to really stop the problems associated with drugs is for individuals to say no to drug use. But we don’t and we won’t.
Prop 48 could make marijuana legal in Mississippi, easier to control, if not easier to manage. Of course don’t be surprised if some group like Koch Enterprises, ADM, or Monsanto winds up lobbying to be the soul producer and distributor of marijuana in Mississippi. Just wait and see who our governor would appoint to the Marijuana Board. And you think IHL is paranoid?
While the perception is all left-leaning liberals are interested in legalization, there are those of the liberal bent who question the timing of this new nationwide “cannabis for the rest of us” campaign.
They worry this is just another attempt by corporate oligarchs to make even more money off of the drug trade – kind of like when the families had “the talk” in the first Godfather movie. As if corporate control of our television and media weren’t opiate enough, they could gain more power while we all light up and zone out, legally.
Still, liberal or conservative, recreational user or mindless junkie, we should consider voting “Yes” on Prop 48. It is time to change the ground rules in the drug trade, to allow for the production of industrial hemp, free non-violent drug offenders from prison, and allow the medical profession to assist those in severe pain.
So vote “Yes” on Proposition 48, but remember you can always say “no” and probably should.
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.
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