It was a bit of a shocker in 2020 when Mississippi voters, by a 3-to-1 margin, voted to legalize medical marijuana.
Given the conservative nature of this state, one might have thought that Mississippi would be the last one to go for medical marijuana, or at least that the vote would have been by a much narrower margin.
As the state nears the implementation of the program, though, it is returning closer to form, with a number of cities — and a few counties — opting out of participating, at least temporarily.
I tried unsuccessfully to get a count Friday of how many cities and counties in Mississippi have opted out so far. The Great Google hadn’t updated the number since mid-April, and I made my calls too late in the day to get an answer from the state Department of Health, which regulates the program, or the municipal and county associations.
But it’s now more than 10 cities and several counties, including both Leflore and Carroll, that have voted to pass for now on the cultivation or sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes, with most of them passing on both.
Local counties have until Tuesday to opt out, under the state law enacted earlier this year by the Legislature. That law took the place of the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2020 but was later thrown out by the state Supreme Court on a technicality.
Some of those government bodies that have opted out are doing so because they don’t feel they’ve had enough guidance or time to draft the zoning ordinances and other regulations they might need to deal with the new industry. They’re waiting for others to figure out the details so they have some best practices to follow.
But there are also a few locales where religious conservatives’ distaste for all things mind-altering is coming to the fore.
In Carroll County, for example, supervisors voted 3-2 last week to opt out after hearing an impassioned plea from two ministers who warned that medical marijuana is the road to perdition. I don’t question the preachers’ sincerity, but Carroll County’s decision was a bit ironic since that hilly, sparsely populated county has been a fertile area for illegal marijuana cultivation, not to mention good old-fashioned moonshine stills.
I acknowledge my own misgivings about medical marijuana. Although the Legislature tightened up the regulations from what had been proposed in Initiative 65, there is certain to be some abuse, with people faking a condition, such as chronic pain, in order to be certified for purchasing medical marijuana that they’ll either smoke recreationally or resell at a marked-up price.
Should that happen, though, it would not be the worst thing in the world, as it would ensure the purity of what people are smoking or ingesting.
What you keep hearing from those in law enforcement and in the mental health profession is that the marijuana sold on the street today is not “your mother’s marijuana.” The concentration of THC, the compound in marijuana that produces the high sensation, is several times stronger than a couple of decades ago. There have also been frequent reports of illicit marijuana being laced with other drugs, either to pad the weight or to enhance the psychological reaction, sometimes with horrible, even life-threatening results.
Although the scare about “bad marijuana” might be overblown, there’s no question that marijuana provided by a government-licensed dealer is going to be safer than what comes from an illicit source.
There are other reasons, besides religious ones, to be leery of marijuana legalization. Once a product is legalized, it is going to be consumed more and at a younger age. That’s what happened with alcohol after the nation gave up on its experiment with Prohibition. There’s already evidence that the same is happening with marijuana in states where it has been legalized.
Marijuana is not benign for developing brains. The current research suggests marijuana use by teenagers can impair their attention, memory and learning, and the damage can last a long time or even be permanent.
Still the die has been cast on marijuana. Three-fourths of the states have legalized its medical use, and in just the past decade a third of the states have done the same for recreational purposes. It’s just a matter of time before marijuana is legalized nationwide.
There will be benefits from legalization, and not only for those whose physical suffering may be lessened by the drug. Legalization will reduce drug-related crime and incarceration rates. It will free up police departments to focus on more serious threats to public safety. It will produce another stream of revenue for state and local governments.
Let’s hope those benefits outweigh the risks.
- Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or email@example.com.