My continuing education on the topic of southern Mississippi

By J. DANIEL CLOUD,

Earlier this year, from January into August, I had the opportunity to work with the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign, based in a downtown Hattiesburg office right next to Benny’s Boom-Boom Room.

The goal of the campaign, as many of you undoubtedly know, was to collect enough signatures to get the question of medical marijuana on the ballot in November 2020.

We succeeded, gathering far more than the 86,125 verified signatures needed, state-wide, to bring it to the vote.

During my seven months or so wandering around south Mississippi, I learned quite a few things about the state and its residents.

I was frequently surprised, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes less so.

A few things came as no surprise whatsoever. When asked to sign a petition that would put medical marijuana to the vote, most people had one of two reactions.

Almost everyone fit into one of these two categories:

Category Number One: “Never, ever. Hell, no. How dare you? Drugs!” You might be surprised how many “good Christian people” start throwing around the infamous F-Word when confronted with the concept of medical marijuana.

And Category Number Two: “I had cancer. My mom has cancer. We saw it work. Why not? Most people I know already use it, anyway, legal or not.”

There were some smaller categories, or subsets. Some people wanted to debate the issue.

Some seemed to be legitimately unconvinced, under-educated, or on the fence. Some had seen marijuana work in any of a variety of beneficial ways.

I took the job because I believe in the cause: Marijuana works for a multitude of medical issues.

My doctor (no, I won’t tell you his name) told me more than a year ago that if medical marijuana is legalized here, I’ll be the first person he certifies for it.

I have a number of ailments for which it’s been demonstrated to be beneficial in patients other than me: PTSD, chronic anxiety, Lyme disease symptoms including omnipresent arthritis pain, and the lingering pain from multiple broken bones and dislocated joints.

It’s been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for a variety of ailments, some of which would otherwise prove fatal, including having been proven to shrink cancerous tumors.

In addition to alleviating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, significantly controlling epileptic and other seizures, it’s been shown to control “wasting away” due to a number of illnesses.

I honestly believe that a majority of people in Mississippi want medical marijuana to be legal. Another group of people just don’t care one way or another, and another significant group of people don’t mind if it is, as long as it’s controlled strictly and safely by the state Department of Health – which is what’s specified by the proposed changes to the state constitution.

One surprising (and large) group of supporters I discovered were veterans of the various branches of the United States military.

Veterans of the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War, some from as far back as WWII, and many from the Gulf Wars: They tended to support medical marijuana, at least when I spoke to them. They’ve seen how it helps people with PTSD. With pain from injuries. There are some, of course, who don’t, for a variety of reasons.

But some of the arguments opposing medical marijuana were quite baffling to me.

Some people I approached, typically older ladies from a variety of racial backgrounds, said they couldn’t sign the petition “because they don’t want it being sold on the street.” Sorry, but it’s already sold on the street, and in an uncontrolled and sometimes unsafe manner, and it’s still illegal.

Some, typically older gentlemen from a variety of racial backgrounds, refused to even consider it. Some more vociferously than others. When I explained that signing the petition wasn’t to legalize medical marijuana, but simply to put it to a vote, they frequently made it clear that no-one should get to vote on things they personally find distasteful.

For my part, I find it far more distasteful to prohibit than to allow. I’d personally rather see individuals have too much freedom than to see liberty in chains. And I’d certainly rather see people have access to relatively inexpensive medication than be kept indebted to pharmaceutical companies.

Beyond the political fascination and machination, of course, my peregrination around Mississippi exposed me to a number of strange experiences – circumstances to which I would not otherwise have been privy.

Not just the tropical storms that I rode through on a motorcycle, looking for likely places to ask people to sign the petition. Places where it was unlikely any of the hundred other petitioners had visited.

Not merely the fact that I got to wander around the southern part of our state, usually on a motorcycle (always my preferred method of travel, except during the aforementioned storms).

I tried to camp if I couldn’t get back home for a day or three, to save money. There were numerous nights in the cheapest motels I could find, trying hard not to stay at the ones with hourly rates posted on the front window.

There was that one night in Brookhaven when I got stopped by the police twice in less than an hour.

Apparently a red-bearded middle-aged white dude on an old BMW motorcycle can still raise some people’s suspicions if he wanders through “the wrong part of town” at dusk.

To his credit, one of the four officers involved in those two stops did sign my petition. So did a few other officers in Jackson and Natchez, as well as a couple of political figures in Hattiesburg.

It’s not up to my discretion to say who. Not my place.

Generally, if one officer or politically-involved person in a group – even if it was just the group of old men sitting around a picnic table – decided to sign, some of the others would, as well. But if the first person to speak up was of the “absolutely not” persuasion, I could write off the rest of the group, as well.

Then there was the young black lady in Natchez, who suggested that if I wanted to get signatures in town that night, there was an “all-white party right up the road in a little while.”

I told her I wasn’t interested in going to any all-white parties, neither having nor desiring any Klan ties. She just about died laughing, then explained that an all-white party just meant you were supposed to wear all-white clothes. That was a new one on me.

I couldn’t go to that event. Such apparel and motorcycles don’t really mix, not if you want the clothing to stay white.

There were trailer parks, housing projects, apartment complexes, and more parking lots than I care to remember.

There were innumerable gas stations – the ones where I was welcome to hang around as long as I didn’t get in people’s way or block the door in any fashion.

There were bars where I could hang out for four hours and get 20 signatures, and others where I could get 20 in 30 minutes.

There were thousands of miles on Mississippi roads, most of which I enjoyed.

There were also thousands of interactions with Mississippi people, and I enjoyed most of those, also. I know I spoke to many thousands of people because I personally collected more than 5,000 signatures.

Interestingly, there were times and places when I was surrounded almost entirely by people who habitually use meth or other hard drugs. (I was an EMT for several recent years, so I recognize the symptoms.) In those places, I could be certain I wasn’t going to get a single signature: They were convinced I was a cop and wanted nothing to do with me.

The people most likely to abuse drugs – meth or opiates, legal or otherwise – were the least likely to want to sign the Medical Marijuana 2020 petition.

Many people still insist on throwing marijuana under the proverbial bus as “a drug,” ignoring the fact that marijuana has proven to shrink tumors, alleviate nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, stop seizures, etc.

They ignore the fact that chemotherapy is, by definition, the administration of drugs in the treatment of cancer, comparable to the use of medication for quite a few other physical and psychological maladies. They ignore the fact that marijuana is far milder than most other drugs – and that unlike chemical pharmaceuticals, THC has very few negative side effects.

People, hear me, please: Medications are rarely used solely by people who need them. Yes, there will be many who continue to use marijuana for non-medicinal purposes even after it’s approved for medical use.

But that doesn’t mean it should be illegal for use by people who would truly benefit from it in medical ways.

One of the nation’s largest opponents of medical marijuana is the extraordinarily powerful pharmaceutical lobby, which I consider to be a very good reason to vote in favor of legalization. They know it would replace many of the much more dangerous (and expensive) drugs they peddle, and they’re scared of losing their captive audience.

It will be quite interesting to see how the Medical Marijuana 2020 vote goes next November. My job was to help get it on the ballot and let Mississippi residents vote. Your job will be to get out and make your voice heard.

J. Daniel Cloud gets headaches if he doesn’t ingest some form of caffeine in the morning. He’s working on that. He’s working on the nicotine thing, too, but that one might take a while longer. Other than that, even alcohol is off the table for him.