By Dayna Drake
Voting is on the horizon and not just for who will serve as the next President. This year, Mississippians will also be voting on if their state should become the 35th state to legalize medical marijuana.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Michael Watson hosted the first of a series of public hearings at The Ford Center at Ole Miss regarding the two Medical Marijuana Initiatives, Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A, that will appear on the 2020 General Election ballot. These hearings are part of Voter Education and are in hopes of easing some of the known confusion regarding the ballot.
With hearings beginning a few minutes after 5:30 p.m., voters were allowed to not only express their opinions but also heard from speakers for and against the initiatives. Along with opinions, many expressed concerns about how the ballot may look awfully confusing.
Along with Presidential elections on the ballot in November, voters will also be asked to vote whether or not they support either initiative and to select whether they support Medical Marijuana Initiative No. 65 or Medical Marijuana Initiative No. 65A.
The following is a summary of the speeches of the first series of public hearings, in chronological order.
The hearing kicked off with Chancellor Glenn Boyce highlighting Ole Miss’s research, the science and understanding of cannabis and the mentioning of The University of Mississippi as a federal government contractor for marijuana.
The 36th Secretary of State, Michael Watson, explained the ballot choices as well as the agenda for the night, and a personal note about voting.
“I would like to remind everyone that voting is a right. Casting a ballot on election day is the most important way to make your voice heard,” Watson said.
Cody Weaver, a United States Navy Disabled Veteran, came in support of Initiative 65 with an opinion surrounding war veterans and suicide. Weaver made the argument that “medical marijuana is currently available to war veterans in 34 other states” and believes Mississippi needs to be added to that list.
Making a personal note, the veteran noted how medical marijuana would help veterans, including himself.
“I do suffer from chronic pain in my knees. If I sleep for five hours a night, that’s a really good night,” Weaver said.
In opposition to Initiative 65A, Jamie Grantham had some remarks. Serving as the Communicators Director for the Medical Marijuana 2020 Campaign for Initiative 65, she believes “There is really only one option on the ballot, and it is Initiative 65.”
Weaver asked the crowd to think about having medical marijuana readily available for veterans and community members like himself that truly need it, and asked for citizens to vote yes for the “people’s plan”, Initiative 65.
Moving down the line, Jim Perry, a spokesman against Initiative 65 spoke next. Serving as a member of the Board of Health in Jackson, Perry brought up lack of zoning, lack of taxing, and the marketing of marijuana as medical under Initiative 65. He stated “If we are going to call it medicine, let’s treat it like medicine.”
Perry regards that instead of passing Medical Marijuana Initiative 65, more time should be spent on researching.
Moving from Initiative 65 to Initiative 65A, Sheriff Joey East spoke.
“If medical marijuana passes, then it is my belief that 65A is the best choice,” East said.
With beliefs that Initiative 65 is not for medical help, but for addiction for profit and greed, his main question for voters is, “If it’s for medical use why can’t it be sold in pharmacies, not ‘pot shops’?” This lead to his point that medical marijuana should only be for those who need help, “not just to get high”.
“Read the measures…with 65 you know exactly what you’re voting for,” Grantham said.
Dating back to the 1960s, Grantham stated that research provides that the past 60 years have plenty of proof that medical marijuana improves the quality of life for many.
“There’s no reason why patients need to wait any longer,” Grantham said. “Do you trust the legislature to truly help patients, families that are in pain and suffering?”
Serving as the final remark and an endnote on the speakers in all, the public started to disperse with much to think about before they make their decision about this year’s ballot.
With the goal of arguing viewpoints and expressing opinions, this first public hearing did just that. Points were made and confusion was cleared between what the two options on this year’s ballot really mean. The last take-a-way both Michael Watson and Jamie Grantham touched on is to read about and research what the specific initiatives entail in order to make an educated vote on Nov. 3.
For the full night of commentary, a full transcription will appear on the Secretary of State’s website, according to Secretary of State Michael Watson.