By John Carney
There is some sage advice that has been around for a long, long time, specifically don’t let the fox guard the henhouse. That saying can be accurately applied to a ballot initiative facing Mississippi voters when they go to the polls Tuesday.
To be clear, the meaning of that saying is simply, don’t put an individual or a group of individuals in control of something when they have a conflict of interest.
Chances are, the fox will eat the chickens, not protect them.
The voters of Mississippi are being asked to do exactly that when it comes to approving the use of medical marijuana in the state. Ballot measure 65 will appear on the ballot next week. The marijuana industry is asking voters to give it total control of the rules and regulations that will govern the sale of medical marijuana in Mississippi for years to come. If the ballot measure passes, the industry will in effect be setting the rules. That control comes from having their desired guidelines written into the state constitution.
First, a little background…Initiative 65 will write into the Constitution of the State of Mississippi the way marijuana will be taxed.
The proposed rules stipulate the sale of marijuana will not be taxed. In Mississippi, even our groceries are taxed, but the pot industry is asking that we give them free reign to sell their product with no ability for the state to tax the product to pay for additional costs the state may incur because of marijuana being legalized in the state.
Additionally, it will write into the Constitution the rules by which it can be sold. Local officials will be powerless to regulate where dispensaries can locate and how many there can be. This means pot can be sold next door to local schools or in residential neighborhoods. Even basic zoning decisions will be out of the reach of your local elected officials.
The Mississippi Constitution has been amended very few times in its approximately 150-year history. Each of those amendments is roughly a paragraph in length, and the details are left to the legislature. This is the way the law-making process is designed to work.
The pot industry is trying to get a constitutional amendment added that is seven pages long and spells out details that should be left to the officials elected by you and me, the voters. We choose who represents us, and they must face us at the ballot box every four years.
If the proposal, as presented by the pot industry, is approved and doesn’t work out for the voters of Mississippi, the only way to change it will be to amend the constitution. That is a difficult task to accomplish.
There is an alternative, Alternative Measure 65A. That option will leave it up to the Mississippi Legislature to set the rules governing the sale of medical marijuana in the state. This option puts the rules in the hands of the voters through their elected representatives. As time passes and problems arise that need to be dealt with, changes in the rules can be made by the Legislature.
The reason this issue is on the ballot this year is those in favor of medical marijuana have not been able to get a law passed by the Legislature approving the sale in the state. When a group of citizens wishes to enact a law and cannot get lawmakers to do so, the constitutional amendment process is the appropriate option. However, getting voter approval for the change and letting the Legislature define the rules is the appropriate way to proceed.
To be fair, there are many patients who benefit from the use of marijuana to treat seizures, Parkinson’s disease, and provide relief from debilitating pain caused by cancer and other serious health concerns.
It is a controversial issue, but one that can benefit a great many people who desperately need the relief that the medical use of marijuana can provide.
On the flip side, rules must be in place to ensure the system is not abused for recreational use.
Ballot measure 65A will provide that assurance by allowing lawmakers to tweak the system as needed.
Voters will have the opportunity to vote for either measure, or against both. This specific vote will determine if Mississippi voters wish to legalize the use of medical marijuana.
If the sale of medical marijuana is approved in Mississippi, the second vote on the issue will choose between 65 or 65-A.
A vote for 65-A will make sure the citizens retain control over the rules through their elected representatives.