By Alyssa Schnugg
Local law enforcement agencies met Tuesday during a press conference to explain why they support the less-broad Alternative 65A initiative that could establish a medical marijuana program in Mississippi.
Last year, the Medical Marijuana 2020 initiative garnered more than 200,000 signatures to have the measure put onto the November Ballot as Initiative No. 65. Then earlier this year, the Legislature added a competing measure, Alternative 65A, which would only be allowed for “terminally ill” patients.
“We are not against medical marijuana,” Oxford Police Chief Jeff McCutchen told Hotty Toddy News on Wednesday. “We are against Initiative 65 because of the wide-spread scope this allows for… allowing dispensaries that can basically go anywhere, and they can have as many in the community as they want. They can go anywhere, near schools and daycares.”
Under Initiative 65, medical marijuana could be recommended for patients with at least one of 22 specified qualifying conditions including cancer, epilepsy or seizures, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, HIV and more. Patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana at one time. Marijuana sales under Initiative 65 would be taxed at the state’s sales tax rate, which is 7% as of 2020.
“That’s 2.5 ounces every two weeks,” McCutchen said. “That’s 10 marijuana joints a day.”
Alternative 65A does not specify qualifying conditions, possession limits or a tax rate. Many details would need to be set by the state legislature. Alternative 65A would restrict the ability to smoke marijuana to terminally ill patients.
“If the voters choose Alternate 65A, it tells the Legislature that the state of Mississippi wants a medical marijuana program, but it gives them time to put things in place, to get dialogue from local communities and governments, to say ‘How do we do this effectively and safely,” McCutchen said.
Under Initiative 65, the Mississippi State Department of Health would oversee the program; however, MSDH passed a resolution in January stating it was against the Medical Marijuana 2020 Initiative 65.
Voters will first be asked to vote whether or not they support either initiative and then to select whether they support 65 or 65A.
McCutchen said he’s concerned that unlimited dispensaries are allowed under Initiative 65, crime will go up.
“If you look at Colorado and Oregon, crime within 1,000 feet of these dispensaries has substantially increased,” he said.
McCutchen said he does believe medical marijuana can help some people with chronic and terminal illnesses.
“What we’re saying is, let’s not do this under Initiative 65 because, yes, it will establish medical marijuana, but it will open the floodgates on so many things that will cause negative impact on our community.”
The press conference Tuesday was organized by Mississippi Horizon and held at the Oxford Conference Center. Other speakers included Oxford psychiatrist Dr. Katherine Pannel and Dr. Ed Hill, former director and faculty member at North Mississippi Medical Center’s Family Medicine Residency Center and Lafayette County Sheriff Joey East.
East said Initiative 65 was about “greed.”
“It’s not about helping those with chronic illness or pain,” East said. “It’s about money. It’s about power and my opinion, it has nothing to do with health and wellness of our state, our communities or our families.”
Supporters of Initiative 65 have spoken out against Alternative 65A claiming it’s too vague and offers no timeline to implement the program, has no list of qualifying medical conditions other than “terminal” and no accountability. Supporters have accused the Legislature of putting 65A on the ballot in hopes of confusing voters.