Today, someone sent me this article by Andy Gipson, Mississippi’s Agricultural Commissioner. Titled “Just Say No To Initiative 65”, Andy argues that you should vote against Mississippi’s Initiative 65 constitutional amendment, which would legalize and regulate marijuana for medical use. Andy also offers that, if you must make your voice heard regarding the concept of medical marijuana, you should only vote for the amended Initiative 65A, which he suggests is a better alternative than the original.

After reading the article by Andy, I was shocked. If I’m being quite honest, I’m revolted.

The article greatly misrepresents Initiative 65 (although Gipson makes very clear he’s read it), and while this is a heavy thing to say, I believe it was written with the full intention of manipulating you to not vote for Initiative 65. To demonstrate that, I’ve broken down Andy’s article in a full analysis, which you can find here. I’ve detailed how the argument is set up, what the wording suggests, where arguments are made to distract you from the real issues, and where the bill is misrepresented. I highly recommend you read my analysis in full (and more importantly, I recommend you read the actual bill in full), but I’ll be giving a brief summary below.

  1. One of the first things Andy suggests is that “if enacted, this proposed amendment would give complete constitutional control over ‘medical marijuana’ to an unelected, unaccountable Mississippi State Department of Health.”

    This statement suggests two things: First, that a government agency would be given an unheard of level of control over the medical marijuana industry; and second, that this agency is not trustworthy. He goes on to tout how great the potential corruption and government overreach will be if this Initiative is passed, and he reiterates how Initiative 65 will make this state run and state controlled. He also makes sure to mention that the Mississippi Department of Health has too much authority “as we are witnessing every day during the COVID-19 pandemic” (which is a direct appeal to those who don’t want to wear masks or follow lockdowns).

    However, Initiative 65 isn’t as overreaching as he makes it seem. It allows for the creation and regulation of a medical marijuana industry in Mississippi for the safety and security of everyone involved. Considering the implications of legalizing a currently illegal drug for medical purposes (one that is still illegal on a federal level as well), it isn’t surprising that there are a lot of regulations and restrictions. In fact, a brief reading of Initiative 65 shows that these are very healthy regulations, not unlike the ones we already see in the medical field: Physicians must have licenses to practice medicine, advertisements must be regulated, adequate records must be kept, taxes can be collected, etc.

    Andy makes it seem as though some great loss of freedom is occurring, when it isn’t. And to be honest, it’s deeply troubling to me that he would try to discredit the trustworthiness our own Department of Health during times like these.
  2. After spending a fair amount of time creating fear of government overreach, Andy temporarily drops the argument to make a cultural appeal: “Can you imagine marijuana dispensaries in every commercial location in Mississippi, offering marijuana for anyone walking in with some form of pain? I’ve seen examples in other states of marijuana dispensaries set up in old abandoned motels, complete with billboard advertisements, and we don’t need that in Mississippi. It’s wrong for our families.”

    This is grossly misrepresentative of the bill, and it takes aim at your cultural expectations, not the issues at hand.

    In reality, these dispensaries (specifically called “treatment centers” in the bill) must be owned and managed by licensed individuals, and they will have stringent regulations to follow. Advertising will be regulated (just like other medical advertising). People can only get medical marijuana after being prescribed it by a licensed physician (and only in limited amounts for set periods), and there are specific sets of “debilitating medical conditions” (to quote 65) that allow marijunana prescriptions. A physician can go beyond those to a degree, but only provided the condition fits within the categories listed in the bill.

    This is far different than the picture Andy Gipson paints for you. He suggests that Mississippi will no longer be a family friendly place if this bill passes, but in reality, this is akin to suggesting that having a pharmacy on every corner makes Mississippi less family friendly. These treatment centers will have people with prescriptions enter to get what they need, and they will have licensed professionals working there. The images Gipson wields are perhaps more drawn from scenes of abject poverty than anything else.
  3. After this, Gipson shifts to another argument meant to inspire fear and distract you from the point. “Did you know this Constitutional amendment would require a statewide tracking database of users? Will the federal ATF be able to monitor it and revoke your freedom to buy a firearm, to hunt, or even revoke your concealed carry license because now you are violating federal laws against possession or use of marijuana?”

    He can only pose this as a question, because to be frank, there’s nothing more to this argument. This is speculation and fear-mongering at its finest. Yes, a database of user information will be collected, because that’s required to send out cards and licenses to use medical marijuana (per the text in the bill). But, like our medical system (which also collects and holds enormous amounts of your data, to no one’s panic), they are required to keep it confidential.

    There is nothing to suggest that the Federal Government will use this for any such purposes – this is a baseless ploy to create fear and opposition to Initiative 65. We already have systems like this in place in our society. It’s nothing new, and they aren’t being used against us in this way.

    However, even if you are concerned about that being a possibility, you can always vote for Initiative 65 so that people besides yourself can get the medical attention they require. Even if Andy’s dark possibility were valid, it would only affect those taking part in the program – and there’s no requirement for one of those people to be you.
  4. Finally, he offers a small opportunity for those who still want to vote for Initiative 65, but not not feel comfortable after his misrepresentations. “If you want to support the concept, vote against Initiative 65 and vote for the alternative 65A.” He suggests that voting for 65A is a better option, and that it doesn’t “give the Mississippi Department of Health yet another stranglehold over your personal healthcare and freedom.”

    However, he doesn’t give any information on what Initiative 65 entails. You may be surprised to know that, after all of these persuasive arguments, what he claims to fight against is actually in 65A. Let’s take a look at some of what’s required in the amendment he recommends.

    A) “Marijuana products that are used by qualified persons in the program shall be of suitable pharmaceutical quality and prepared by state-licensed manufacturers”
    B) “The program shall provide for a limited number of state-licensed manufacturers of marijuana products”
    C) “The program shall have a patient registry for program enrollment, patient tracking, and treatment outcomes assessment.”

    Interestingly enough, many (f not all) of the things he argued against are in 65A, which he says you should vote for if you’re going to vote for one. A department is overseeing and managing it and a database will be created and used for patient registry. In addition to that, there are to be “state-licensed manufacturers” of cannabis products and “a limited number” of them. Only healthcare professionals can distribute the medical marijuana (but I’d like to again clarify, in Initiative 65, a physician is still required to create a prescription).

    All of the above is in 65A, despite what Andy’s article suggests. And yet, 65A is vague and easily corruptible. It limits production to a select, finite group (which isn’t free market). And it is short-sighted and ineffective, providing medical marijuana only to terminally ill patients, not to those who have to go on living with suffering.

The reality is that Gipson’s article is deceptive, manipulative, and ironically hypocritical. It should turn our stomachs that an elected public servant would mislead us regarding legislation and incite irrational fears in an attempt to sway us from voting for a bill that could reduce the suffering of thousands in a safe, regulated, physician-directed way.

And on that note, I think it’s worth diving in a little deeper here. The fears that Gipson plays on and the cultural values that he confronts us with are very real. That’s why his type of deception works. The article’s title is even a reference to the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign – a subtle way to reference an anti-drug program that many have looked at with positivity.

Many have criticized marijuana usage, even for medical purposes, as being unsafe. However, more and more research piles up against this view. A growing body of scientific data is showing beneficial effects from the use of marijuana to treat a variety of illnesses. Marijuana is a much safer alternative to opioids, which have destroyed the minds and bodies of those who became addicted to them.

Perhaps more importantly than anything else, those who live lives of chronic suffering can find some form of normalcy that would otherwise be unavailable to them. People like my wife, who suffer daily from chronic pain, might can find an affordable, less damaging form of relief so that they can live their lives like all of us deserve the chance to.

Look at the bill yourself. Initiative 65 is currently our best bet of offering a better medical solution to thousands of people who need it in a safe, regulated way that lets us adjust as needed. It’s a big step, but it isn’t leap to our deaths as some would suggest.

To the contrary, this is a step toward provision and healing for thousands.

So, instead of “just saying no”, how about yes?

I’ll take that step with you.

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