Angie Calhoun of Puckett became an advocate for medical marijuana after her teenage son suffered a debilitating illness and standard pharmaceutical treatments didn’t work — and brought horrible side effects. Calhoun is now chairwoman of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association.
Like many others, she is waiting to see whether state lawmakers will re-enact a medical marijuana program after the state Supreme Court shot down the one voters overwhelmingly passed in November. Calhoun said she hopes Mississippi’s politicians will observe the will of the people.
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Adam Ganucheau: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Other Side, Mississippi Today’s political podcast. The Other Side lets you hear directly from the most connected players and observers across the spectrum of politics in Mississippi.
Geoff Pender: [00:00:17] Welcome to The Other Side podcast. I’m Geoff Pender. I’m here today with my fellow Mississippi Today reporter Bobby Harrison.
Bobby Harrison: [00:00:25] Hey Geoff.
Geoff Pender: [00:00:26] Hello. And we have a guest today. We have Angie Calhoun from Puckett who is actually chairwoman of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association. And anyone who’s kept up with Initiative 65 and Mississippi’s medical marijuana issues in the last year, year or better, might remember Ms. Calhoun. She spoke very passionately at several of the public hearings that the secretary of state had on Initiative 65. Ms. Calhoun I believe got into the medical marijuana issue very personal reasons. And welcome by the way.
Angie Calhoun: [00:01:05] Thank you for having me.
Geoff Pender: [00:01:08] But as, as I’ve heard you, and in some of your presentations, you got involved in this because of a family member because of your son who was then a teenager being very ill. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got into this issue?
Angie Calhoun: [00:01:23] I sure will. Well, when my son was about 17, he began having multiple debilitating health conditions, such as seizures, chronic pain. And it was from a tick bite ,his Lyme disease, which attacks the autonomic nervous system. So pretty much anything that his body was supposed to do automatically began to malfunction, even his heart rate.
And so and he also suffered from chronic severe nausea and vomiting, which made him lose about 40 pounds. And so Austin’s life, just his quality of life diminished, severely. This was his senior year of high school. And we soon realized that he wouldn’t be able to attend. He just, he was bedridden. He felt horrible.
He was sick all day long. And so. Of course then, you know, we’re seeing throughout that year and a half, we saw over 20 doctors and he was prescribed 17 different prescription medicines and three were for his seizure disorder. And the horrifying thing about that was that most of those prescriptions actually had lifelong side effects that could have changed even his personality, his mobility. And that was really just horrifying for my husband and me. And of course for Austin, he’s a young kid in the prime of his life. So Austin, you know, he did miss most of his senior year. We had to homeschool through our county and they worked with him and , he did graduate, but he barely made it across the stage that night.
But soon we were looking at a child who so often, and I’ve described of one morning walking into his bedroom. And I just looked down and it looked like a little skeleton under a sheet. And it was really excruciating for me to see my healthy, you know, tennis player, football, loving son, go from, you know, a healthy state to losing that 40 pounds and looking so feeble and gone. So my husband and I, I can remember, you know, lying in bed. We were talking about this one evening and that, you know, we’ve got to find an alternative. We were worried about the pharmaceutical drugs, the cause the side effects that they had. And we knew that through you know, people getting chemo when we had heard so many reports that actually medical marijuana worked for them and subsiding those horrible you know causes of the nausea and vomiting that they would have.
And so we researched it and our son researched it and he actually even looked up the sweet little Charlotte who they eventually named high dose CBD with some THC in it. Charlotte’s web and showed me how it you know, they had actually had a video of her, you know, taking that medicine and it stopped her seizures.
And it gave her quality of life and it, that changed a lot of my views on it as well. And it helped my husband to realize that, you know, we probably need to give this a shot. And so as a family we made the decision to drive to Colorado and to allow Austin to try it. And it was like having our son back. We were able to go to dinner and, you know, the effects last, only a few hours.
And I just want to say too, that for Austin an inhaled form for him, worked, where if you’re nauseated and you’re vomiting, you can’t keep a pill form. You can’t keep an edible down. Topicals don’t really work too, you know, for problems like he was having. And so this is an immediate release into the body and then within seconds, it really made a huge difference.
And as a family, we decided that he would eventually he moved to Colorado. I stayed with him a great deal of the time there, especially, you know, until I knew that he would be okay. He saw a medical marijuana doctor and who definitely certified him as a patient, and that he was able to get a medical card there and get the medicine that he needed, which he soon regained his quality of life again, through that.
Geoff Pender: [00:06:06] Thank you for sharing that, I guess. And as I mentioned before, obviously this is what got you involved in this initiative and everything. And I guess probably at this point, we’ll fast forward. People who listen to this podcast, know Bobby and I, and others have discussed things, but Bobby, you want to bring us up to date a little bit about the latest that’s happened?
Bobby Harrison: [00:06:27] If you don’t mind staying on your son just a minute. I think he still lives in Colorado, but he spoke at the rally a few weeks ago, the medical marijuana rally at the Capitol. And he, and you’ve been a passionate spokesman. You had to be proud of him.
Angie Calhoun: [00:06:40] I’m so proud of him. And he actually has moved back home to Mississippi. We thought that everything was going to work out to where he would be able to receive the medicine pretty soon but that did not work out. Obviously it’s going to take a lot longer, so we’re not real sure, you know, where his future stands.
Bobby Harrison: [00:07:00] Of course, the reason you say it may not work out is you worked and others work to approve the medical marijuana Initiative 65. And then just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court struck that down on some technicalities. It was a Friday afternoon. What was your thoughts? I mean, after y’all worked so hard, or were you just totally surprised. Were y’all expecting this at all, or?
Angie Calhoun: [00:07:23] I was not expecting it at all. I was honestly just devastated, and I don’t really know of another word to describe it. We had put in not only so much work for Initiative 65, but our plans for our son’s future. It all went up in smoke over that and a decision that I do not believe at all was appropriate that the Supreme Court did. And, you know, it just was like a gut punch to eyes and to the patients of the state and the voters, of course. And I just truly felt like our justices were going to be, you know, go in and, and be justified in a true fair decision. And I do not understand why they did what they did except maybe political motivation.
Bobby Harrison: [00:08:20] And now, speaking of politics now, it’s kind of up to the Legislature too. I mean, you have leaders in the Legislature saying that they are open to passing the medical marijuana legislation. But I mean, to say they’re open to actually getting it passed is sometimes two different things in the legislative process.
There was a hearing last week, week before last, in public health committee, chaired by Hob Bryan where the issue of medical marijuana was the only topic. And so you were that hearing, right? What was your thoughts on that hearing?
Angie Calhoun: [00:08:51] Well, you know I’m thankful that they are, the Senate is working on this and you know, getting out there and researching, because obviously we need them to do that and before, you know, Governor Reeves calls a special session. But I felt honestly a little, like the deck was stacked against us. They only allowed you know, we, as the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association Ken Newburger to be there and to speak, but then, you know, we had what, four or five other people that were totally against medical marijuana and paid employees of the state who have to, in my opinion, say what they have to say because their jobs are in jeopardy.
Bobby Harrison: [00:09:38] And well, I don’t know, if know this, but I was talking to the chair of that committee Hob Bryan, and he said he’s planning to have another hearing later on this month.
Angie Calhoun: [00:09:47] I hope so.
Bobby Harrison: [00:09:48] So maybe it would be better. But one thing that came up in that hearing that was got a lot of headlines, your colleague Mr. Newburger said that now that it was in the legislative process, perhaps they’d just be a few changes made to the Initiative 65, but overall the general principles of Initiative 65 y’all feel it should be included in the legislation. Can you just speak a little bit about that?
Angie Calhoun: [00:10:11] Yes, absolutely. Well, we at three M.A., we do firmly believe that the people spoke clearly through the election that they wanted Initiative 65 and so we want to make sure that that stays on target and that the Legislature will stay in line with the main structure of that. And so, you know, our main goal is to make sure that the patients are able to get medical marijuana with ease without, you know, there was one point in the 2765, where they only wanted one dispensary per county.
Geoff Pender: [00:10:53] That was legislation that was going on about the same time.
Angie Calhoun: [00:10:56] Yeah. And that is that’s not fair for a patient who is already sick and suffering to have to drive, say 70 miles across the county to get medical marijuana. And so, you know, for us, we also believe that we need to make sure that the certifiers, the doctors and I do like that we are actually adding nurse practitioners to that.
And so that will help, you know, ease things up. But they need to make sure that they have the doctors and nurse practitioners have a good idea as to who can receive medical marijuana and not to restrict it too much. And then of course we don’t want to restrict a smokable or inhaled form, because like I said about my son, an inhalation form works best for somebody who’s dealing with, you know, extreme nausea and vomiting and, you know, and even with pain and all. And so you know, we want to also make sure that, you know, we have no license cabs because I’m a small business owner and a farmer. And so we, I believe, that everybody should have the right to go and, you know, decide if they want to be a part of this brand new industry.
Bobby Harrison: [00:12:20] Free market system.
Angie Calhoun: Free market, free and fair. And so I’m 100% for that. And but I keep hearing that a lot of the Legislatures are wanting a licensed cap, but I just do not believe that that is is being free and fair at all to the people of this state.
Bobby Harrison: [00:12:37] Newburger in his testimony, Newburger did say, perhaps there was some room to adjust the ability of municipialities to put in more zoning regulations and also that the Department of Health perhaps Initiative 65 might have given the Department of Health too much responsibility that some of the things they couldn’t handle on their own. But it came up during the hearing there was some thought of allowing municipalities to opt out through a vote. And I think that y’all would draw a line there, that that was going too far. Is that correct?
Angie Calhoun: [00:13:10] Yeah. You know, I think that the municipalities need to think about their constituents, what they voted for because no county or city, you know, the vote was fair and it was there to support the vote. And so we need to make sure that they do not undercut, you know, the patients being able to get medicine in their city or within just a few miles there. And so, you know, for our Initiative 65, it was the, you know, the 500 feet, you know, if they want to go a little farther, that’s you know, something we’re open to, but to opt out is, you know, I’m just not sure that that’s the best thing for their constituents and for the patients of the state or small businesses.
Geoff Pender: [00:14:01] Ms. Calhoun, one big issue in the legislative debate on this, or what they’re looking at now is going to be taxation. Bobby mentioned whether the health department runs it sounds like y’all are perhaps open to some negotiation there.
Angie Calhoun: [00:14:19] On the taxation, I, as the mother of a patient and we, of course, I’ve seen what other states have done. I truly do not believe that medical marijuana should be taxed, but to satisfy, you know, some of the legislature and municipalities, you know, we, we would be open to looking into that. I think so often, so many people are looking at medical marijuana in other states as recreational. And I understand that they’re confused on that.
But, you can just do a quick Google search and find that the majority of states that have legalized medical marijuana do not tax it, or it is an extremely low tax. Now, when it comes to recreational, which is not what we are about, but that is what so many of the opposition are actually talking about and in the high taxation on that. But why would we as a state want to put another burden on the patients of taxing them too much on a medicine, natural medicine, that would help them? And so the taxation should remain low if they’re going to have to do that and to keep it reasonable for these people that are sick.
Geoff Pender: [00:15:46] You mentioned recreational. And I know this hearing was on medical marijuana, but recreational came up. I believe Senator Bryce Wiggins mentioned, ‘Hey, this appears to be where everything’s headed anyway. Why don’t we just go ahead with that? As I recall, and you just mentioned y’all are not involved in that.
Angie Calhoun: [00:16:07] No, our association is not involved.
Geoff Pender: [00:16:10] Do you feel like that could derail y’all’s push for medical?
Angie Calhoun: [00:16:13] You know, I think it would be really unjust. Most states have medical and recreational you know, and that would just be up to the people of our state to decide if they want recreational. And you know, we are strictly a medical marijuana association. That is what we, you know, we pushed for through Initiative 65. And you know, I will say that I think at the hearings some people had said that Initiative 65 was nothing short of recreational, but I couldn’t disagree more because in other states, if you have recreational, anybody can get it.
You don’t have to have 20 different debilitating medical conditions, which, you know, not only did Initiative 65 have, but some of the Legislature’s bills also had those debilitating medical conditions. But, you know, I would strongly disagree with anybody comparing Initiative 65 to recreation a lot. I think they haven’t maybe done all of their homework when they say that.
Bobby Harrison: [00:17:15] Y’all don’t have a position on medical among recreational marijuana now. And just for a point of background, we were going back to the taxes and how you felt it might be unfair. In Mississippi if you have a prescription, you get the prescription from your doctor and go to the drug store to get your medication. There’s no tax on that. So, I mean, I’m not taking a position on that, but that’s just a point of reference.
Angie Calhoun: [00:17:38] Absolutely. And that is actually what we initially based Initiative 65 on. Of course there was an amount that would be collected at the point of sale. And that was to help keep the Department of Health funded. And we’ve seen it so many times that the legislature will defund a program to shut it down.
And that is absolutely what we were trying to do is to keep the program running in order to help not only the patients, but the businesses of our state.
Bobby Harrison: [00:18:10] And that’s one of the principles that was articulated at the Senate hearing that y’all think the program should be self-sustaining.
Geoff Pender: [00:18:17] As this apparently moves forward or we’ll, we’ll see if it moves forward. Are y’all having discussions at this point with some legislative leaders, with the governor? He would obviously have to be the one who calls a special session are y’all in communication with them?
Angie Calhoun: [00:18:33] We absolutely are. We are doing everything that we can to meet and greet and talk to lobby every legislator that we can, especially the ones that are involved in the Senate hearings. And we are just, you know, out there trying to make sure that our patients and the businesses are taken care of and and to make sure that we get a free and fair [00:19:00] market and that, you know, the patients have ease of access through certified doctors or nurse practitioners and having multiple dispensaries in an area.
And so you know, a county or even a city. I mean, that’s a large city. They need to have ease of access to getting their medicine.
Geoff Pender: [00:19:21] Well, we really appreciate you joining us today. I guess we’re all on watch to see if there’s going to be a special session perhaps this summer.
Angie Calhoun: [00:19:30] Yes, we’re certainly praying for that. I really, I believe that Governor Tate Reeves, you know, I feel like he will call one. He has mentioned it several times that he would. And so as long as our Senate and House leaders do what they’re supposed to do and get things on the ball, we’re hoping that come maybe August we’ll have that special session and get medical marijuana rolling in our state.
Bobby Harrison: [00:19:54] Thank you ma’am.
Geoff Pender: [00:19:55] Thank you again for joining us.
Angie Calhoun: [00:19:56] Thank you both. I appreciate you.
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