“We are the 74” has become a rallying cry of a large number of people who want the Mississippi Legislature to approve marijuana for medical use.
Seizures, chronic pain, PTSD and even symptoms from lyme disease are championed as reasons for legislative approval after the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the initiative calling for its use. Initiative 65, which was on the ballot for Mississippi’s General Election last November, was supported by citizens and would have legalized medical marijuana.
Supporters of medical marijuana held a rally on July 9 in Hernando and railed against its dismissal arguing that 74% of Mississippians who backed the initiative shouldn’t have their voices taken away by the courts.
Amy Smoot, of Olive Branch, is a stay-at-home mom and has worked ten years in emergency medicine as an EMT. Smoot took increased interest in the issue of medical marijuana as a patient advocate.
“I learned about a child in the Hernando area who was having severe seizures,” said Smoot. “I worked with her aunt, so I’ve known her since (the child) was a newborn. They moved to Colorado because (an area children’s hospital) discharged the child at five years old and told the family to make preparations for her death. Her seizures were that bad, no medications were working. Her family packed up everything and left Mississippi for Colorado. There, they bought their child medical cannabis and she started THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) oil. In thirteen days after starting THC oil she has been seizure free for three years, eight months and counting.”
Smoot said the girl is off of all pharmaceutical drugs and only uses the oil.
On June 28, Smoot, an active member of the “We Are 74” group, addressed a Mississippi Senate Committee hearing on medical cannabis.
Smoot said she has spoken to Senator Kevin Blackwell about her support for cannabis and hopes the Legislature can agree on a new bill.
“Our hands are tied as citizens, when the (Mississippi) supreme court overturned the decision, they overturned our initiative process as well. So we can not, as citizens, bring another initiative process to the ballot,” Smoot explained. “Adults can get (cannabis) on the black market if they need to. Kids can’t. There were so many families waiting on (the November General Election), expecting this to go through, and now they’re basically left with nothing.”
The mayor of Madison, Mississippi, Mary Butler Hawkins, filed a lawsuit before the November 8 General Election, arguing the process of voting on Initiative 65 was unconstitutional. The signature process requires an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts. Mississippi only has four congressional districts. The initiative was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Blackwell, who represents District 19, which includes DeSoto and Marshall Counties, is throwing his support behind House Bill 119.
“During last session I was working on a bill to act as an insurance policy in case the (Mississippi) supreme court did strike down the initiative,” said Blackwell. “The House let it (the bill) die and now the people don’t have a (medical marijuana) program.”
Blackwell said he hopes a special session will be called this month, once both the Mississippi House and Senate can agree on terms of a proposed medical marijuana program.
“We are proceeding with writing the bill, meeting with the House and hopefully come up with an agreement,” Blackwell explained, “We’ll let the governor know so he can call a special session and hopefully we’ll get this taken care of.”
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is the only official who can call a special session of the Legislature.
Blackwell went on to say the little opposition he encountered to establishing a medical marijuana program was based on philosophical grounds.
“I respect that, but the majority of people in this state want a program,” said Blackwell. “We’re going to do our best to get them one.”
Blackwell emphasized that House Bill 119 is a “working document” and how changes or additions are common to the process of passing a bill.
The bill’s current filed description is “Harper’s Grace Law; extend repealer on authority to research and dispense cannabidiol (CBD oil) for medical purposes.”
Twenty-five-year old Austin Calhoun is the current president of the “We are 74” board. A native of Puckett, Mississippi, Calhoun was present and spoke at the rally in Hernando.
“We are here advocating for medical marijuana, seventy-four percent of Mississippi voted for it,” said Calhoun. “A lot of people I’ve spoken with feel like they’ve been completely disenfranchised. They don’t even see a point in voting when seventy-four percent says ‘Yes, we want this.’ Then someone…throws it all away.”
Calhoun said the rally was partly to voice concerns about state lawmakers possibly putting in place license caps or large fees on small businesses that would sell marijuana.
“Nobody in Mississippi, your average Joe, wants to start a business and not have $250,000 just to throw on a license and not even have a building yet,” said Calhoun.
Calhoun lived in Pueblo, Colorado almost six years after contracting Lyme disease as a young deer hunter in Mississippi. A self described “medical marijuana refugee,” Calhoun embraced a non-pharmaceutical remedy for his debilitating seizures. He found his remedy in Colorado where marijuana is legal.
“I was prescribed over seventeen prescriptions, saw over 22 doctors in the course of a year and a half,” said Calhoun. “None of which worked. A lot of them had life-long side effects. Eventually my mom and dad, and me, decided to try medical marijuana, because why not, when you have nothing else to lose.”
Marijuana eased Calhoun’s seizures so much that he relocated his life to Colorado at the age of 18. Calhoun attended college, gained weight after losing about 45 pounds due to Lyme disease, and his seizures stopped.
“That’s why I’m here fighting, this is something I believe in,” said Calhoun. “Patients in Mississippi deserve the right to treat themselves when nothing else is working.”
Calhoun admitted later that he did move back to his home state in hopes of Mississippi passing a medical marijuana program into law last year. When Initiative 65 was overturned by the courts, Calhoun said his resolve to fight for his right to self medicate increased. He sold his house in Colorado to move back to Mississippi.
Another speaker at the rally was Adam Kokesh, author, activist, host and producer. Kokesh performed a self-proclaimed “act of defiance” after his speech by publicly smoking a marijuana cigarette in front of attendees on Hernando’s court square.
“Is that what it means to be an American citizen? This government owns you? Your will doesn’t matter?” Kokesh said to attendees shouting ‘No!’ “I didn’t think so. So I thought it would be appropriate to just share a little civil disobedience with y’all. This is what it means to stand with the 74. We are the 74…This racket of the drug war of injustice must end!”