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OPINION: The Case for Medicinal Marijuana in Mississippi

Dried marijuana leaf is one form of its medicinal use for pain management, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Mississippi voters could legalize it soon. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Dried marijuana leaf is one form of its medicinal use for pain management, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Mississippi voters could legalize it soon. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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Marie deYoung

To my surprise, former Gov. Phil Bryant is boldly making false claims about Initiative 65, on the ballot in November to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi if it passes. I must refute Governor Phil's ill-advised campaign to stop the sale of medical marijuana in Mississippi with these points.

First, Governor Phil falsely claimed that Initiative 65 would not bring needed revenues to the state's coffers. Initiative 65 plainly states that medical marijuana will be taxed—7% sales tax for every cookie, gumdrop, brownie, essential oil that is sold. Additional tax revenues will be collected in the form of licensing fees and for medical-marijuana ID cards.

Apparently, there are states that do have additional marijuana taxes, the way Mississippi taxes alcohol. If I've learned anything about state legislatures, it is that they love to slap taxes on things like alcohol ($8.16 per gallon of liquor in the state of Mississippi). Although alcoholic beverages have no medicinal or nutritional value, consumers gladly pay this huge tax on their favorite purely recreational drug.

Once our Legislature sees first-hand how recession-proof medical marijuana is, they will tax it to heaven, and Mississippi's coffers will flow with cash to build better infrastructure. And no one will complain, because the positive medical effects of marijuana are too immediate to contemplate tax avoidance.

Governor Phil's second assertion makes no sense to the most casual observer. He claims that the medical-marijuana industry will leave the State of Mississippi to clean up its mess. What mess?

In all my years of active ministry, teaching and serving troops in the military, I never, ever encountered a person whose life was destroyed by medical marijuana. I wish I could say the same about those who self-medicate with alcohol and tobacco.

Governor Phil contradicted his own health officials when he claimed that Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol pay for the messes their products make. This is not the truth. The CDC reports that "In Mississippi, excessive alcohol use costs $2.1 billion, or $1.93 per drink." Despite this net cost to our community, the State of Mississippi literally runs the alcohol-distribution system.

The former governor is blaming marijuana for "messes" that are caused, in fact, by tobacco and alcohol!

Of the three recreational drugs Governor Phil cites, marijuana is the only one that has solidly demonstrated its medicinal value in study after study. Good people have convinced me that medical marijuana helped them deal with nausea during cancer treatments; chronic pain; spasticity due to multiple sclerosis; arthritis; inflammation due to Lupus and other autoimmune illnesses; post-traumatic stress disorder; anxiety, and other chronic conditions.

There is no question that medicinal marijuana is a threat to the price-gouging Big Pharma that destroys the financial security of most who live with chronic disease.

That, friends, is the real reason Governor Phil opposes medical marijuana. Just peruse his campaign donor lists, and you find contributions from AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Company, Pfizer Inc. and Merck pharmaceutical companies.

Big Pharma—including the companies who support Bryant—gave us the opioid crisis. During Governor Phil's tenure, opioid deaths increased, and the strength of the opioid prescriptions increased.

If medicinal marijuana had been legal when Big Pharma was pushing Oxycontin and Hydrocodone, you and I would still be having conversations with loved ones, students and friends who needlessly overdosed from prescribed pain medications.

I am 66 years old. I've walked many paths in life. I've seen neighborhoods and families destroyed by opioid addiction. But I have never seen a single life destroyed by medical marijuana. Quite the contrary.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars advocate for medical marijuana to treat traumatic brain injury, PTSD, cancer, chronic pain (every grunt soldier lives with that for the rest of their lives—ask me how I know).

The American Legion goes further in their endorsement by advocating for approval of medical marijuana. The American Legion also advocates for removal of marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs and for reclassification of marijuana as a drug with medical benefits.

As a proud U.S. Army veteran and as a member of both organizations, I concur.

Mississippi, it is time to vote for Initiative 65. It is time to legalize medical marijuana and make it affordable, safe and free from the stigma that Gov. Phil Bryant so wrongly attaches to this medicine that has healed humans for thousands of years.

So, I appeal to you: if you have a loved one who would benefit from medical marijuana as they battle cancer, autoimmune diseases, brain trauma, war trauma, etc., please support Initiative 65.

Maybe you cannot express your support out loud. Your quiet vote on Nov. 3, however, will make the difference.

Mississippi is moving forward. Legalizing medical marijuana can only help us to have a healthier medical and financial future together.

Rev. Dr. Marie deYoung is a retired minister with the Gulf Coast UU Fellowship.

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