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Q&A on Mississippi’s Proposed Marijuana Legalization Law: Worse Than You Could Imagine


Q&A on Mississippi’s Proposed Marijuana Legalization Law: Worse Than You Could Imagine

Introduction and Overview

A faction of Mississippi legislators is trying to pressure Governor Tate Reeves to call a special session to pass a law that would allow the sale and distribution of the federally illegal controlled substance, marijuana.

The marijuana bill they are pushing is in direct violation of federal drug and banking laws. Essentially, these legislators are insisting Gov. Reeves defy these federal laws in our country. If the rule of law in our state and nation still means anything, it means our state officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor, legislators, attorney general, and head of public safety, remain strong in their support and enforcement of federal laws against marijuana.

During the 2021 state legislative session, the legislature attempted to pass a radical, marijuana bill in the name of medicine, but thankfully they failed. Now, after their failure, some republican lawmakers are trying to make Gov. Reeves look like the bad guy for not calling a special session to defy the rule of law and allow for the illicit sale and distribution of marijuana. Mississippians should encourage Governor Reeves to remain strong by upholding the rule of law and not make marijuana “legalization” his lasting legacy.

Under the direction of Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn, the Legislature has issued a proposed bill and summary that opens the door wide to legalized marijuana – including smoking marijuana with extremely high levels of THC. In doing so, their marijuana bill creates the infrastructure for a powerful and politically influential Big Marijuana Industry that will not stop until it has removed all restrictions on medical and recreational marijuana use.

It is important to realize that Mississippi already has FDA approved drugs or compounds derived from marijuana. These FDA drugs, legitimately defined as medicine, have only trace amounts of the psychoactive component of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), which causes a personal state of euphoria or a “high.”  The bill under consideration not only recognizes current legal forms or derivatives of marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD) containing trace amounts of THC, but also illegal recreational marijuana deemed as “medicine” – that is, marijuana with extremely high levels of the psychoactive ingredient (THC) that results in a “high.”

Proponents of the bill claim that marijuana with levels of THC higher than the FDA allowable threshold has a medical purpose. The Big Marijuana Industry claims the entire marijuana plant can be used for medical purposes (such as treating cancer patients), but the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) and the American Medical Association (AMA), caution that there are “longstanding concerns about the lack of rigorous medical evidence to support cannabis for medicinal use.”[1] Again, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved legal medications containing synthetic and trace amounts of derivative THC that may be legally used to help cancer patients.

So, why are Mississippi legislative marijuana advocates leaning on the Big Marijuana Industry’s definition of medicine as opposed to the definitions provided by the established and respected medical profession whose Hippocratic oath is to “first, do no harm?”

As affirmed by the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police in their statement opposing marijuana legalization, the use and possession of marijuana also violates federal law. Legalizing marijuana at the state level places law enforcement in the untenable position of having to ignore either state law or federal law, not only as it pertains to marijuana use, but also regarding federal laws that prevent marijuana users from purchasing and possessing a firearm.

 

Q&A on Mississippi’s Proposed Marijuana Legalization Law

This Q&A cites the proposed bill, indicating line numbers and sections where necessary. You can read the entire bill for yourself here and the bill summary here.[2] The Q&A is focused on the practical consequences of the proposed law for Mississippi employers, churches, and state employees.

Readers wishing to understand the difference between medical marijuana (CBD) and psychoactive marijuana (THC) can skip to Question 15 below to learn more about why people of faith object to the use of (THC) marijuana.

 

Question 1: Will legalizing marijuana harm Mississippi employers?

Answer 1: Of course it will. … In the wake of a massive expansion of welfare and unemployment benefits related to COVID-19, employers are already having difficulty finding motivated and skilled workers. Even prior to the pandemic, Mississippi suffered from the second-lowest labor force participation rate in the country. As related to this bill, the most immediate question for employers is whether they will be required to offer a medical accommodation to marijuana users. The short answer is Yes – eventually, if this bill became law. Many states that have legalized medical marijuana require employers to offer a medical accommodation for marijuana. Mississippi’s proposed bill does not require employers to offer a medical accommodation, but that will change. Once the state legalizes marijuana, there will be little rational basis for an employer to deny a medical accommodation to an employee. Already, at least one state supreme court has required a medical accommodation in spite of there being no such requirement in state law (Barbuto v. Advantage Sales). The court’s reasoning was that because the law treats marijuana “in the same manner … as medical prescriptions” (line 668), the same accommodations must apply.

 

Question 2: Will legalizing marijuana harm Mississippi churches and religious organizations?

Answer 2: This bill raises three serious concerns for churches and allied organizations. … There are no religious liberty or freedom of conscience protections in this bill. The idea that anyone might hold sincere religious objections to illicit drug use is not even considered. At best, churches and schools are an afterthought, only granted weak zoning protections (cf. lines 1291-1297), not even equivalent to those the industry is seeking for itself (cf. lines 1315-1318). Yet, churches and allied religious organizations, like schools, adoption agencies, hospitals, and nursing homes, have much to be concerned about with this bill. These are three obvious problems:

  • The bill only prohibits “smoking medical cannabis in a public place” (lines 635-637). The bill does not state that a church or religious organization may prohibit the use of other forms of marijuana in their public worship services or other public events. The bill also allows the use of other forms of marijuana in restaurants, at sporting events, on playgrounds, in retail outlets, etc.
  • The bill requires “any nursing facility, hospital, hospice, assisted living facility, personal care home, adult day care facility, or adult foster care facility” to allow marijuana use (cf. lines 703-706 to lines 721-726). This includes religious-based hospitals and healthcare providers, such as Baptist Medical Center and St. Dominic Hospital.
  • The bill states that “a person shall not be denied custody of or visitation rights or parenting time with a minor solely for the person’s status as a cardholder” (lines 649-651). Given this stipulation, how long will it be before a court decides that an adoption agency or foster care organization may not refuse to place a child with a marijuana user?

 

 

Question 3: Does this bill contain reasonable accommodations for state employees who don’t want to break federal law or violate their sincerely held religious beliefs?

Answer 3: No … This bill contains no protections for any public employee who objects to being forced to implement, enforce, or administer this program. Just as we protect the conscience rights of individuals who refuse to participate in abortion or the prescription of chemical abortion pills or contraceptives, this bill should safeguard the religious freedom of public employees who believe marijuana use is immoral. Moreover, under federal law, marijuana is illegal because it is a Schedule 1 drug (in the same category as heroin and cocaine) “with high potential for abuse with no currently accepted medical use.” Forcing state employees to violate federal law is wrong.

 

Question 4: Will children (and teachers and babysitters, etc.) be able to use marijuana under this law?

Answer 4: This bill allows children to use marijuana, as well as teachers, daycare workers, etc. … Mississippi’s proposed marijuana law includes minors (lines 301-303; 767-786). Indeed, lines 666-668 envisage the administration of marijuana to children in daycares and schools! Given that the bill also allows marijuana smoking and marijuana edibles, it is likely that minors and young adults (age 18 and up) in possession of a marijuana card will “share” with their friends. The law also provides legal protection for schools and employers that hire marijuana users (lines 652-654). Likewise, the law provides specific custody and visitation rights for marijuana users (649-651). 

 

Question 5: Will this bill infringe upon the rights of Mississippi property owners and landlords?

Answer 5: Mississippi’s proposed bill contains only a very weak protection for landlords and no apparent protection for other (commercial) property owners. … The bill states: “Any person or establishment that is in lawful possession of property may allow a guest, client, customer or other visitor to use medical cannabis on or in that property as authorized under this chapter” (lines 695-698). This is followed by the weak qualification that “a landlord may, but shall not be required to, allow the lawful cultivation, processing, testing, research, sale or use of medical cannabis on rental property” (lines 699-702). These two sections conflict with one another. But the intent of the bill is revealed by a summary (dated September 23, 2021) indicating that all landlords will be forced to permit marijuana use by tenants. The summary states: “A school or landlord cannot refuse to enroll or lease to a person for using cannabis for medical use” (section 8). In addition, the proposed law should clarify whether property and casualty insurance will cover property damage (cf. lines 574-580) caused by a marijuana user.

Question 6: I know this bill is bad, but don’t we need to pass it to prevent “something worse”?

Answer 6: The threat of “something worse” is giving Mississippi one of the worst “medical” marijuana laws in the country. … Unlike other states, Mississippi’s proposed law has no caps on the number of dispensaries, cultivators, and other marijuana-related businesses. The bill (section 18) is laying the groundwork for a powerful marijuana industry that includes large cultivators, processors, researchers, dispensaries, and transporters. It is naïve to presume this level of investment and infrastructure is being built up in order to service a very narrow medically fragile population. The goal is to create a massive industry that will demand the legalization of recreational marijuana – and, if we take the pro-marijuana advocates at their word – they will legalize all drugs.

 

Question 7: Will Mississippi communities be able to decide for themselves whether to opt-out of this law?

Answer 7: Good luck with that. … The bill specifically states that “no municipality or county may prohibit dispensaries either expressly or through the enactment of ordinances or regulations that make their operation impracticable in the jurisdiction” (lines 1288-1291). In addition, no locality may opt out of allowing “cardholders, cannabis testing facilities, cannabis research facilities, cannabis transportation entities and cannabis disposal entities” (lines 2061-2064). The bill technically allows localities to opt out of the “cultivation, processing, sale and distribution of medical cannabis and cannabis products” ONLY if they do so within 90 days after the law’s effective date. Then, however, the bill goes into great detail as to how this one-time decision can be irrevocably overturned (cf. lines 1921-2057). The message is clear. Any locality that opts out will become a target of Big Marijuana. The industry will pursue a divide and conquer strategy in these communities, targeting local leaders and funding petition drives and ballot initiatives to make sure no one can interfere with their plans.

 

Question 8: Will any Mississippi lawmakers financially benefit from this law?

Answer 8: Follow the money. … Lawmakers should not be lobbying for and voting for policies that will benefit themselves and their families. This proposed law allows any lawmaker to vote for this bill and then after December 31, 2022, enter into the marijuana business (cf. lines 1124-1126; 1152-1154; and lines 1173-1174). In addition, the bill conceals any business interest that is less than 10 percent (lines 1260-1263).

 

Question 9: But does smoking marijuana really hurt anyone?

Answer 9: Addiction. Second-hand smoke. Edibles targeted at children. You decide. … Mississippi’s proposed “medical marijuana” law allows for the smoking of marijuana and for edible marijuana. Both delivery mechanisms are known to deliver the best “high,” and both are known to have adverse effects on children, in particular. For example, an article in the Journal of Pediatrics concludes that “unintentional cannabis ingestion by children is a serious public health concern and is well-documented in numerous studies and case reports.” Likewise, The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the legalization of marijuana. Cautions their peer-reviewed journal, Pediatrics: “Marijuana use has been associated with several adverse mental health outcomes, including increased incidence of addiction and comorbid substance use, suicidality, and new-onset psychosis. Negative impacts on cognition and academic performance have also been observed.”

 

Question 10: Will users only be able to obtain medical marijuana from trained medical professionals?

Answer 10: Not as much training as you would think. … Healthcare professionals allowed to authorize the use of medical marijuana are only required to obtain 8 hours of training (lines 325-333). In addition, patients will not get their order fulfilled by a pharmacist, but by a so-called dispensary agent who also only receives 8 hours of training – from the Mississippi Department of Revenue! (lines 1433-1438). In addition, this bill takes great pains to clarify that nonresidents may obtain a Mississippi marijuana card if they are already allowed to do so in their home state. This means that people who live in states where it is very easy to obtain a medical marijuana card will likely be able to obtain a card in Mississippi.

 

Question 11: Will medical marijuana users be able to just sit on the couch and collect welfare?

Answer 11: Medicaid. Food Stamps. Cash-Welfare. Why not? This proposed bill allows “government medical assistance” programs (Medicaid/Medicare) to subsidize marijuana use (lines 688-690). In fact, the bill specifically spells out the fees for Medicaid recipients seeking a medical marijuana card (lines 1603-1606). In addition, the bill does nothing to prevent marijuana users from getting any other form of public assistance, like Food Stamps (SNAP) or cash-welfare (TANF). Research shows that medical marijuana legalization is associated with reduced wages, particularly for young men, which suggests that at least some medical marijuana users would otherwise be working.

 

Question 12: Won’t this law discourage the illegal use of marijuana?

Answer 12: In fact, the opposite. ... This bill is part of the “soft-on-crime” agenda rapidly gaining ground in Mississippi. The penalties for illegal distribution of marijuana under this program are much lower than under current state law (cf. lines 1668-1670; 1677-1679; 1730-1735 to lines 2934-3006). Moreover, criminal defense attorneys are known to advise recreational marijuana users that “one of the most effective defenses is to claim that your marijuana was medicinal.” Research also suggests that legalizing marijuana increases access even to illegal “street” marijuana by pushing down prices. A study in the Journal of Health Economics likewise found that marijuana laws “increase marijuana arrests among adult males by about 15-20%” and that “treatment admissions to rehabilitation facilities … increased by 10-20% after the passage of medical marijuana laws.”

 

Question 13: Don’t a majority of Mississippi voters support legalizing medical marijuana?

Answer 13: Not as many as you would think. … In November 2020, 57.89 percent of voters approved of Initiative 65, which was presented as allowing “qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana … provided only by licensed treatment centers.”

And 31 percent of voters rejected both Initiative 65 and its legislative alternative. In the same election, about 40 percent of voters voted Democrat. This would suggest, at least, that Republican support for marijuana legalization is much weaker than some legislative marijuana advocates are touting.

Therefore, perhaps only about 17 percent of Republican voters voted for marijuana. Moreover, the question remains whether Mississippi voters actually support medical marijuana – that is the use of CBD to treat medical conditions; or whether they realize that this bill’s definition of “medical marijuana” includes the smoking and ingestion of THC products that deliver a “high” and foster addiction. 

 

Question 14: Will the Marijuana Industry be competing with other businesses for tax breaks and incentives?

Question 14: That’s coming too. … While the advocates of medical/recreational marijuana like to cloak themselves in free-market rhetoric, the reality is that the industry is seeking all the targeted tax breaks it can get. Contrary to current federal tax policy (IRC section 280E), Mississippi’s proposed law allows marijuana business interests to deduct all “ordinary and necessary expenses” from their state income taxes (lines 1828-1835). Marijuana companies are also pushing for access to state small business credits, employee retention credits and other loans and grants typically reserved for small businesses and new businesses. Absent specific prohibitions, it won’t be long before the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) is offering special tax breaks to encourage marijuana companies to relocate to or expand in Mississippi. (This is already happening, for instance, in Colorado, which recently gave a marijuana company more than half a million dollars in tax breaks to expand existing operations.)[3]

 

Question 15: What are the religious and ethical objections to medical/recreational marijuana use?

Answer 15: It’s all about CBD vs. THC. … As with all of creation, God created the cannabis plant for man’s use (cf. Gen. 1:24-31). Like any created thing, cannabis can be used for good or for evil. There is evidence that parts of the cannabis plant have medicinal properties, but the plant also has properties that enable a person to get “high.” CBD (cannabidiol) is the compound derived from cannabis that is often used to make oils, soaps and medicinal items that can help treat seizures, arthritis, anxiety and other conditions. CBD does not make a person high and, also, does not seem to cause drug dependency or addiction.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a compound in the marijuana plant that gets people “stoned.” The primary problem with Mississippi’s proposed “medical” marijuana law is that it allows for the use of marijuana containing THC – in fact, higher levels of THC than “medical” marijuana laws in other states. (Twice as much as Alabama’s weight limit, for example.) The reason using marijuana products with THC (excepting, perhaps, very unique medical circumstances) is immoral is that their use significantly compromises a person’s ability to act rationally (unlike a glass of wine, for instance). Such use is also contrary to the virtue of temperance, which is a form of self-control that avoids excess (cf. Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 9:27). As is well known, THC fosters drug dependency and addiction.

 

[1] Mississippi physicians and AMA urge “NO” vote on Initiative 65 (constantcontact.com)

[2] Originally posted on Y’all Politics at: https://yallpolitics.com/2021/09/24/details-of-medical-marijuana-bill-circulating-as-lawmakers-come-to-an-agreement/

[3] Colorado's First Marijuana Business Tax Incentive Fuels Canadian Firm's Expansion | Westword

 

 

American Family Association Action (AFA Action), is a non-profit 501©(4) organization dedicated to advancing biblical, family values in society and government by educating and influencing public policy. AFA Action is also the Governmental Affairs Affiliate of American Family Association (AFA).

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