State Health Officer voices concerns regarding Initiative 65

State agencies continue to voice their opposition to Initiative 65—  one of the two medical marijuana options that will appear on the ballot in less than a week. 

During a press conference, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs raised several concerns regarding the initiative that was placed on the ballot as a result of a petition signed by over 228,000 Mississippians. Dr. Dobbs’ primary concern stems from the initiative’s intent to amend the state constitution to allow for the distribution of medical marijuana. 

“The way that 65 is constructed, it will be in the constitution. In the state constitution, chiseled in stone such that whatever is in there, we cannot alter from a regulatory perspective and whatever is in there cannot be altered from a legislative perspective,” he said. 

If the initiative passes, the Mississippi State Department of Health would be tasked with administrating and overseeing the program, but the agency would not be able to limit the number of dispensaries, locations or the way in which marijuana is sold — edibles, vapes, joints, etc. 

As for those who receive a certification card, Dr. Dobbs explained that the initiative does not include prescriptions, dosages or a duration. 

“It’s basically a permission slip to purchase marijuana,” the state’s top medical expert said.

While there are specific conditions included in the initiative and a limit of 2.5 oz in a 14-day time period, Dr. Dobbs is concerned by language in the text that states a card can be issued by a doctor for any “another medical condition of the same kind or class to those herein enumerated and for which a physician believes the benefits of using medical marijuana would reasonably outweigh potential health risks.”

“This could be a transformative moment for our state,” Dr. Dobbs said. “I really think that if you look at it, and look at what happened in other states like Oklahoma and other places that have done things very similarly, to understand that we would be voting in the most liberal medical marijuana access in the country and it could change the makeup of our state.”

While some may argue that the taxes raised would benefit the state, revenue from Initiative 65 can only be used to further the medical marijuana program. 

There is another option for Mississippi voters — 65A, the legislative alternative. If a majority of voters choose this option, the legislature would be tasked with creating and implementing a medical marijuana program during the 2021 session. Dr. Dobbs did not endorse 65A but offered his thoughts on its upside compared to Initiative 65. 

“If you wanted medical marijuana, it would at least be structured in a way that allows for evolution. It would allow for the correction of any sort of missteps that go through the process and it would allow for more input into how it’s operated,” he explained.

Earlier this week, Governor Tate Reeves encouraged Mississippians to vote no on Initiative 65 come election day.

“Because I have three daughters, I certainly understand the intent of those individuals who were successful in getting Initiative 65 on the ballot, but because of those three daughters and the concern that I have in putting marijuana in our state constitution and everything that goes along with that, I’m going to vote no on both and I encourage my fellow Mississippians to do the same,” Governor Reeves said Monday.

Initiative 65 is supported by a steering committee made up of medical and law enforcement professionals, and recently, its communications director, Jamie Grantham, referred to 65A as “an attempt to confuse voters and deny them a fair, up-or-down vote at the polls on November 3rd.” 

Next Tuesday, you’ll first be asked to vote for or against medical marijuana before then choosing between Initiative 65 and 65A (see sample ballot below).