Hattiesburg is home to the Mississippi headquarters of activist group Mississippians for Compassionate Care, who are determined to get a medical marijuana bill on the 2020 election ballot. They have gathered almost 40,000 signatures across Mississippi as well as gained the support of some local officials.
CEO of Grassroots Community HQ and manager of Medical Marijuana 2020 Jonathan “J.B.” Brown said he found an outlet in activism after his time in the U.S. Air Force. He worked on two campaigns for Ron Paul after he finished touring in Iraq.
“[Campaigning for Paul] was my first taste of activism, grassroots organizing and working with other individuals to make social change,” Brown said.
Brown said he was asked to help with the campaign after he successfully worked with veterans in Louisiana to extend PTSD and a few other diseases on their list of acceptable ailments.
Brown said when the campaign started in September 2018, its goal was to reach 86,185 signatures before Sept. 6. They gained almost 40,000 signatures in five months and clock in at around 1,000 signatures a day.
“Medical marijuana is something we think Mississippi is ready for,” Brown said. “We have a significant chance to amend state policy.”
The group sends petition gatherers throughout not only the Pine Belt area but also Mississippi. Gatherers often make appearances at shows and events downtown wearing shirts that read “Sign the Petition: Medical Marijuana 2020.”
Junior history major Bailin Caldwell is one of 70 statewide who gathers signatures for the campaign. He said his motivation is to help those who can benefit from medical marijuana get access to it.
“It is super fun being able to interact with people and inform people on what medical marijuana does and how it can benefit people,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said working as a petition gatherer has been rewarding, and he enjoys discussing medical marijuana when asked. He said the reception he gets while on the clock can be varied. He also said he will continue to work as a petition gatherer until the campaign was complete.
“Being able to support a cause that I really believe in is the best job ever,” Caldwell said.
Brown said regulating cannabis is an issue that is often brought up, but the bill proposed would regulate and restrict access to it. He emphasized that the amendment does not include the use of cannabis recreationally.
“People think that this is something that it isn’t. You say, ‘medical marijuana,’ and they think you’re trying to sneak recreational in,” Brown said. “Nowhere in [the proposed amendment] does it say you can smoke pot on the corner for fun now. That is a whole different set of issues.”
Brown also said he thinks people often mischaracterize the proposed amendment based on other states’ history with medical marijuana. He said that on every petition they have a copy of the amendment for people to read.
A patient would be restricted to a set amount of two ounces to be in their possession. Any patients found with more than two ounces either by saving it or by being bought on the black market would be held liable in the court of law.
Brown also said the likelihood of abuse in disbursement would be unlikely because records will be kept across dispensaries.
Brown said many representatives have openly supported the campaign. Brown recited a list including representatives Chris Bell, D-Jackson; Joel Bomgar, R-Madison; Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch; Abe Hudson, D-Shelby; Kabir Karriem, D-Columbus; Rob Roberson; R-Starkville; and Jeff Smith, R-Columbus.
Though he is not on the list of open supporters, House Representative of District 106, which encompasses Lamar and Pearl River County, John Glen Corley said he is not against a bill for medical marijuana and that it has come up in session briefly before.
He said he is for medical uses but does not extend the use of cannabis recreationally because he views it as a gateway drug. He also would agree to the bill only if the cannabis supplied were a “non-addictive type.”
“[Medical marijuana] certainly has a place in a physician’s bag of treatments,” Corley said over the phone.