A battle blazes over legalizing marijuana in MS

A battle blazes over legalizing marijuana in MS
As the calls grow louder for the legalization of marijuana in Mississippi, there are still some people who say it is a bad initiative. (Photo source: WLOX)
As the calls grow louder for the legalization of marijuana in Mississippi, there are still some people who say it is a bad initiative. (Photo source: WLOX)

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Across the country, there is a move to legalize marijuana. It's now legal in Washington and Colorado to smoke pot. Some people want to make it legal in our state. Hundreds of advocates are leading the charge for cannabis reform, but not everyone is ready to say yes to legal pot smoking in the Magnolia State.

Rapper Snoop Dogg brags about smoking it. The late Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley sang about his love for it.

"I think a majority of people in America have smoked it or smoke it, and they are scared to tell people," said Jeremy Harlan.

Harlan, a father and local business owner, lives in St. Martin. He is outspoken about what he calls Mary Jane.

"I started smoking at 16-years-old. It was just something I tried. I started smoking a lot more when I got older, and it calms me down. It helps me rationalize my thoughts before I act," Harlan said.

Could Mississippi, a state known for its conservative values, now join the other states that are legalizing pot?

"Here in the Bible Belt, and perhaps the perceived morality of the issue and the uncertainty of the legal and law enforcement issues surrounding it, I just don't see it passing." Pascagoula resident Frank Corder said.

Two political action committees, Mississippi Alliance for Cannabis and Team Legalize, are now traveling from city to city in a joint effort to change the pot laws in our state by gathering signatures in support of Ballot Initiative 48. Stephanie Dreher is one of the lead advocates on the Coast.

"It legalizes industrial hemp, marijuana and recreational cannabis. We have 41,000 farms in this state. A lot of them aren't operating, because it is just not profitable," said Dreher. "What if you can have a crop where you can get four crops a year, and you don't have to put any pesticides or herbicides on them?"

The pot supporter said Proposition 48 also wants all those convicted of nonviolent marijuana crimes pardoned.

"We incarcerate and pay for $250 million worth of nonviolent cannabis offenders annually. I don't know if they are easier to catch or what, but we have too many nonviolent prisoners in prisons where they can't take care of their kids and can't have a good job and contribute to society," Dreher said.

As the calls grow louder for the legalization of marijuana in Mississippi, there are still some people who say it is a bad initiative.

"Once you open up those doors, you are going to see more cases like this. Many more bags and bags of marijuana that is going to be hitting our streets. It is already hard to try to keep it out of the adults' hands, but then you also have to worry about the minors' hands," Cmdr. Keith Havard said.

Havard is commander of the Jackson County Drug Enforcement Team. He and Sheriff Mike Ezell have worked to sweep drugs off the streets, and they warn against legalizing pot.

"You can very easily get yourself robbed. I have seen young women who are abused at the hands of drug dealers, and I have seen automobile accidents where people have been injured," Ezell said about the effects of cannabis.

"When someone smokes marijuana, their judgment is altered. Their perception of time and space can be changed, and they get the munchies," said Singing River Health System's Dr. Ryan Logan.

Logan says cannabis has sparked interest around the world for its medical benefits. More than 15 states have legalized it for medical purposes. In 1968, the University of Mississippi began legally growing marijuana on farms for scientific and medical research as part of a federal program.

"The concern I have for marijuana is how you are actively using it. I don't have any concerns for long term health," Logan said.

The ultimate decision on cannabis use could end up in the hands of voters. Proposition 48 supporters need to get more than 107,000 registered voters' signatures on their petition by Oct. 2, to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

Right now, they have 7,400 certified signatures. As part of the initiative, recreational cannabis would be taxed at a 7 percent rate, and all proceeds would go to the Mississippi Public School System.

Copyright 2015 WLOX. All rights reserved.