Three opponents of making medical marijuana legal in Mississippi said Monday that voters who disagree should support the more restrictive of two initiatives on the November ballot.

Known as Initiative 65, the medical marijuana referendum got on the ballot after more than 220,000 people signed petitions for it. The Legislature, which had declined to address the issue, then exercised its right to put a second option on the ballot.

The original initiative, if approved by voters, will allow a doctor to prescribe up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks to people being treated for one of about 20 illnesses. The Mississippi Department of Health would issue a card that would allow these patients to buy the drug from a licensed medical marijuana treatment center.

The Legislature’s counterproposal permits local zoning that would restrict the location of treatment centers. More importantly, it would restrict prescribing marijuana to people with a terminal illness. Those with less serious conditions, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or post-traumatic stress disorder, would be able to use marijuana-based oils or other forms of the drug.

This proposal, known as Alternative 65A, also assigns other details for the Legislature to decide. Which is interesting, since the reason the original initiative is on the ballot is because the Legislature didn’t want to decide.

The three opponents who spoke out against Initiative 65 include State Board of Health member Ed Langton of Hattiesburg along with a lawmaker from Madison and the Madison County sheriff.

All three said they will vote against putting either medical marijuana proposal into the state Constitution — as will, no doubt, a significant number of other people. Sheriff Randy Tucker added that law enforcement is already burdened and does not need the extra duty of keeping an eye on “pot shops” that he believes could increase access to marijuana for people who will abuse it.

The sheriff surely is aware that marijuana is already a very accessible drug. It’s not hard to find. But the patients who would be allowed to buy marijuana from treatment centers — or pot shops, if you wish to call them that — will not be healthy people looking for a casual high. They will have serious conditions like epilepsy or PTSD that marijuana may help, or they may be dying and are in search of pain relief.

The State Board of Health is solidly against medical marijuana, and Tucker speaks for many officers when he warns of harmful possibilities if this constitutional amendment is approved. Advocates counter such concerns by noting that at least 33 states already allow the legal sale of marijuana for medical reasons.

For Mississippi, these are the questions: First, is this conservative state ready to legalize medical marijuana? If so, should it be legal for people with “a debilitating medical condition,” as the original initiative proposes? Or should it be restricted to those “who have terminal medical conditions,” as the alternative specifies?

It’s a sign of changing times that polls show a majority of Mississippi voters favors medical marijuana. If that is true, it makes more sense to allow it for those whose health may benefit from it, not just those who are dying.

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