By BECKY GILLETTE
When Mississippi launched its casino industry in 1992, it decided to use the free market approach rather than having only a limited number of licenses available. An initiative for a proposed constitutional amendment to set up a medical marijuana program in Mississippi takes a similar free-market approach.
“We are coming later to the game, but there are advantages because we are able to see what other states have done–what has worked and what has not worked—to craft an initiative for a strictly regulated medical marijuana program,” said Jamie Grantham, communications director, (MCC).
MCC is in the process of collecting signatures to put a proposed constitutional amendment for a medical marijuana program on the ballot in 2020. Grantham said it has been collecting signatures for ten months and is doing a major push this summer to finish getting the 86,185 signatures of voters needed to put the initiative on the ballot.
Grantham said officials with MCC studied medicinal marijuana programs in other states when crafting the initiative.
“Thirty-three other states have medical marijuana programs,” she said. “And of those, about three million Americans are receiving relief from symptoms of debilitating medical conditions. Mississippi should have the same options for people who are suffering here.”
Neighboring Arkansas is considered to have one of the worst medical marijuana rollouts in the country. Voters approved a constitutional amended in 2016, and the first dispensaries opened only recently. As of the end of July, six dispensaries were open in the state.
David Boyer, legislative analyst, Marijuana Policy Project, said the Medical Marijuana Commission in Arkansas did not do an adequate job scoring applications, which plagued the rollout of the program with lawsuits. And he said it was a mistake to license so few dispensaries and grow facilities.
“Medical marijuana laws serve the patient best when they allow for competition in the marketplace,” Boyer said. “This provides the patient with the best quality medicine at an affordable price.”
Grantham said the free-market approach will allow patients to have access to their medicine as soon as possible because there are unlikely to be things that have held up implementation in other states.
“Any business that wants to be licensed to grow or dispense can apply to the Mississippi Department of Health,” she said. “If they meet requirements, then they will be a licensed medical marijuana business in Mississippi. Mississippi is a very rural state. Our primary concern as it is a healthcare initiative is for patients to have access to their medicine. Our hope is they will not have to drive a long distance to get to a medical marijuana treatment center.”
Polls have shown about 77 percent of people in Mississippi favor legalizing medical marijuana.
“People understand that it helps people with debilitating medical conditions,” Grantham said. “I got involved with it because I saw the potential for it to help so many people in Mississippi.”
Some opponents of medical marijuana suggest many patients are primarily interested in the intoxicating effects of the product. But Grantham said the only patients certified will be those who have very debilitating conditions such as paralysis, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders and Parkinson’s disease–conditions where their quality of life is very adversely impacted.
“This is a health-care initiative,” Grantham said. “It doesn’t have to do with anything else. To qualify, you must have in-person exam by a physician. No home growing will be allowed. The only places medical marijuana will be sold in Mississippi are at medical marijuana treatment centers.”
Grantham said they designed the voter initiative to make sure the medicine gets into the hands of patients.
“We want a well-functioning program where patients are able to get access to their medicine,” she said. “I am extremely passionate about anything that helps with someone’s emotional or physical health. Personally, I’m a Christian and I think this plant is amazing. It helps a lot of people the way God designed.”
Grantham said she has been inspired by meeting people in patients in states with legal medical marijuana programs who have been benefited greatly.
“Arizona is one of the states we looked at,” Grantham said. “We toured their program. We were able to talk to veterans in studies about using marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It brought tears to my eyes to hear the stories of the veterans trying reclaim normalcy in their lives.”
One veteran she met had been unable to sleep and lost his marriage because of the trauma he was experiencing after coming back from war. Once he became a medical marijuana patient, his entire life changed.
“He is able to sleep, and not be hypervigilant,” Grantham said. “He is active in his community. He has life in in his eyes now. He lives a good life now.”
Opponents of medical marijuana often voice concerns about the lack of scientific evidence about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. The State Board of Health in Mississippi is opposed to a medical marijuana program. Liz Sharlot, communications director for the Mississippi Health Department, said they will wait and see what happens with the referendum.
“Medical marijuana has not undergone a rigorous medical review,” Sharlot said. “It is not FDA approved.
The U.S. Veteran Administration advises veterans that federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule One Controlled Substance.
“This makes it illegal in the eyes of the federal government,” the VA states. “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is required to follow all federal laws including those regarding marijuana. As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it.”
Grantham said when they visited Arizona to look at their medical marijuana program, their host was Dr. Sue Sisley, who has done clinical studies of using medical marijuana to treat veterans with PTSD.
“Dr. Sisley just completed the first federal research study on PTSD in veterans, Grantham said. “She is brilliant and has a soft spot in her heart for veterans. She pushed and pushed and pushed and had a lot of backlash. Medical marijuana can have a positive impact not only on the veterans, but on their family and friends. It can make a big difference in someone’s life.”
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