Tate Reeves has expressed suspicions that medical marijuana is being used as a backdoor means to legalize the recreational use of the drug in Mississippi.
That’s why the Republican governor has been raising objections, including with lawmakers from his own party who are writing the legislation, about how much marijuana should be dispensed for a medical condition.
A recent op-ed column by Democratic Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville may give additional credence to Reeves’ suspicions.
Simmons, writing in the Jackson Clarion Ledger this past weekend, argues that legalizing medical marijuana should include provisions to make it easier to have marijuana-related convictions expunged from a person’s record. Such reforms, he says, would allow drug offenders who have completed their sentence to more easily find employment and be reintegrated into society — and thus presumably reduce their chances of running afoul of the criminal justice system again.
One can reasonably argue that the drug laws in this state are too harsh and that Mississippi should treat drug-related offenses, particularly those pertaining to marijuana, as minor crimes, meriting nothing harsher than a ticket or, if it’s a recurring problem that’s impeding the user’s ability to function, a stint in rehab.
But Simmons is factually incorrect when he writes, “A medical marijuana bill without expungement reform burdens thousands of Mississippians with a criminal record for a crime that no longer exists.”
If Mississippi legalizes medical marijuana, it will still be illegal in this state to possess or sell marijuana except for one relatively narrow category — having a medical condition that would benefit from the drug or being a licensed provider to someone with such a condition.
Thus, the vast majority of those who have been convicted in the past under Mississippi’s drug laws would have been convicted even if medical marijuana had been legalized at the time. That’s because they weren’t using or selling the drug for medicinal purposes. They were doing so to get high, or to profit off those who wanted to get high.
Mississippi, as part of its continuing examination of criminal justice reform, should look at liberalizing the rules by which first-time nonviolent offenders, drug-related or otherwise, can have their records wiped clean. Reducing the impediments that might cause a person to again resort to crime is a prudent thing to do.
But using medical marijuana as a cover to try to achieve that end misinterprets what the public has said it supports.