JACKSON, Miss. (WLOX) - When Mississippi voters head to the polls in November, they will have the chance to vote on an initiative that would make medical marijuana possible in the state.
It’s a controversial measure that has stirred much debate in recent years.
That initiative would allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions to be prescribed medical marijuana by licensed treatment centers.
However, Bryant said this initiative is not the way to go, saying the “Big Marijuana” industry behind this push just wants “a free ride” by not paying state taxes.
“This out-of-state industry has devised a scheme to give themselves special protections in our state constitution and they won’t pay any sales taxes – so no money for our schools, roads or cities. They want a free ride, but there’s good news. We can stop them. All we have to do is vote NO to Initiative 65 and tell the marijuana industry they are not going to get a free ride in Mississippi,” reads Bryant’s op-ed, which is dated Sept. 3, 2020.
A 7% sales tax would be added to the final sale price of medical marijuana but would go into a special fund instead of into the state’s general fund.
Using the same model as a similar bill in Arizona, proponents of the initiative estimate that there would be an estimated $6 million in special fund revenue each year. That money would then be used as determined by a committee to provide personnel and other needs to support the amendment, with no funds being used from the state’s general fund to implement the program.
The constitutional amendment would provide three separate forms of revenue for the state health department through fees for identification cards, treatment center licenses, and fees at the point of retail sale.
Bryant argues that the measure will be taking authority out of the hands of state lawmakers because it would be a constitutional change, calling it an “outrageously bad public policy.”
“Initiative 65 inserts marijuana permanently in our State Constitution. The Constitution rarely changes and is beyond the reach of the governor and legislature to regulate. In other words, it will take another statewide referendum to fix any oversights in Initiative 65. And there are plenty of problems.”
“Initiative 65 would empower an un-elected group of 11 Mississippians to run this new industry with unprecedented taxing, spending and regulatory authority inconsistent with our system of government and not answerable to the State Legislature or any elected official.”
The former governor urged Mississippians to take a cautious and wise approach to marijuana, saying that it should be passed through the legislature instead of being a constitutional amendment.
Supporters of the initiative are using people’s desire to help those who are sick, said the governor, calling it a scheme.
“They call it ‘medical marijuana’ and appeal to people’s natural concern for the sick,” said Bryant. “Who could be against helping the sick? Well, no one, of course. That’s why it is all BIG MARIJUANA ever talks about, but the U.S. Surgeon General has stated there is no such thing as ‘medical marijuana’ and emphasizes that it’s a ‘dangerous drug.’”
Bryant - who served as Mississippi’s 64th governor for two terms - compared Initiative 65 to the tobacco industry.
“If you liked BIG TOBACCO, you are going to love BIG MARIJUANA. It’s the same scheme – just decades later. Sell a product that causes permanent damage to people while claiming it has no ill effects and make as much money as you can for as long as you can. They say it’s about compassion, but follow the money.”
The initiative lists multiple health conditions that would be allowed medical marijuana as a treatment if the measure is passed, including cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, chronic pain, and more.
If passed, medical marijuana cards - which would be good for one calendar year - would begin being issued no later than Aug. 15, 2021, states the initiative.
Patients approved for medical marijuana cards would be allowed to possess no more than 2.5 ounces in a 14-day period.
“Doctors would be able to give Mississippians the legal right to smoke five ounces of marijuana per month. That translates to about 10 joints per day or 300 per month. Whoa! Think of the impact on our workforce, driving safety and young people,” said Bryant.
He continued: “Physicians could certify patients with a broad array of medical conditions to use marijuana, including “pain”. It’s a mighty slippery slope other states have already slid down. Anyone, including teenagers, with a headache could be legally allowed to smoke marijuana.”
A separate measure - Alternative 65A - is also set to appear on the ballot in November. Supporters of Initiative 65 say that Alternative 65A is much more restrictive and was only placed on the ballot to confuse voters and dilute support for Initiative 65.
Alternative 65A would also legalize medical marijuana in the state, but it would restrict use to terminally ill patients, and require treatment oversight by licensed officials.
Voting for Initiative 65 supports approving the medical marijuana amendment as provided by Initiative 65, which would allow medical marijuana treatment for more than 20 specified qualifying conditions, allow individuals to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana at one time, and tax marijuana sales at the current state sales tax rate of 7%.
Voting for Alternative 65A supports approving the legislature’s alternative medical marijuana amendment, which would restrict smoking marijuana to terminally ill patients; require pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products and treatment oversight by licensed physicians, nurses, and pharmacists; and leave tax rates, possession limits, and certain other details to be set by the legislature.