Angie Calhoun is the president of the Mississippi Cannabis Patients Alliance. She’s also a staunch Republican from Rankin County, not exactly a combination one might expect.
How did she become one of the most recognizable faces in Mississippi’s fight to legalize the drug?
At the Overby Center’s “Pot Goes Public” panel on Wednesday night, Calhoun claimed marijuana treatments gave her son back his quality of life after he was diagnosed with Lyme disease and had exhausted every other treatment without finding a cure. After 18 months of searching, the Calhouns tried a more natural route and discovered that medical marijuana worked wonders.
“I just felt in my heart that it was something I had to do to help end the stigma and to get people to understand that this is real medicine,” Calhoun said.
“It has saved millions of lives around the world over time, but we do need to study it more, and we need more research to be done so that we can prove the efficacy of it.”
Calhoun was joined on stage by state health officer Dr. Dan Edney and UM police and campus safety director Daniel Sanford. Daily Mississippian managing editor Violet Jira moderated the panel.
Late 2020 was when 73.7% of Mississippi voted through the citizen initiative process approving medical marijuana. This was invalidated a few months later by the Supreme Court. It was not until January of 2023 when the first legal sale was made to a licensed patient.
“It’s definitely been building the airplane as you’re flying it,” Edney said. “If you look at the states around us, I think Louisiana took over three years in building their program. We built ours in four months.”
Sanford says the biggest challenge for law enforcement agencies right now is just trying to get themselves familiar with the law and trained in how to police it.
“There’s a lot of municipalities throughout the state who may not have access to the resources that we have here in Lafayette County, and they may not have a training person they’re able to call,” Sanford said. “So it’s important as a society that we do a good job of getting the information out.”
Calhoun said she’s received a lot of backlash for being a mother who allows her son to regularly smoke marijuana. But Edney says from a medical standpoint, marijuana use is relatively safe.
“When I compare the effects of THC on the human brain versus alcohol, alcohol is far more devastating,”
Edney said. “And so from a policy standpoint, I can’t argue with the issue that if we’re going to sell alcohol legally, and we’re going to do it in a controlled fashion through the ABC process and the Dept. of Revenue, and we’re going to tax it, it’s hard to argue against doing the same thing with cannabis.”
Edney explained that there are always risks with treatment drugs, but that the aid they offer sometimes outweighs the risk. He says his No. 1 goal is to protect the public while still helping those in need. He stressed risk and safety training for doctors as being the key.
“We educate them on the risks of cannabis,” Edney said. “The health department determines what that training is, and I specifically require it to be understanding what that is and understanding what dosing means. What’s a little THC? What’s a lot of THC? And then watching for potential complications.”
On the issue of recreational marijuana, none of the panelists were in favor of the state immediately opening things up to non-medicinal users. But Edney does believe that many of the arguments against such a thing aren’t quite grounded in reality.
“When I look at the grand scheme of things, cannabis is not the gateway drug, it’s nicotine,” Edney said. “Cannabis tends to get in there early because of accessibility, and then it can graduate, but that’s the disease of addiction. And not everybody using cannabis is going to have that issue.”
The Overby Center will wrap up its spring slate of programs on Tuesday, April 18, with, “A Pulitzer Turns 40: How Politics and Media Have changed,” featuring OC chairman Charles Overby in conversation with former Clarion Ledger editor Fred Anklam and Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe and Adam Ganucheau.
The program will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Overby Auditorium and will be followed as always by a generous reception and open bar.