Mississippi Advocate Demands Cannabis Access: An Exclusive with Amy Smoot

Mississippi patient advocate Amy Smoot reached out to High Times to share the story of a childhood struggle with seizures and the necessity of medical cannabis.

Last month, the state of Mississippi held a meeting to discuss legalizing medical cannabis and why cannabis medicine is so essential for kids who suffer from seizures and other serious elements. High Times was contacted by cannabis warrior and concerned advocate Amy Smoot, who gave testimony at this meeting on behalf of three different families who had young children who couldn’t be treated with traditional pharmaceutical medications.

As a patient advocate and former emergency medical technician, Smoot has chatted with High Times to further discuss exactly what these families are up against and why these children’s stories are so important, one of whom is now an 8-year-old girl named Rylee.

As a family friend of a Rylee’s family since she was just a newborn, Smoot has seen first-hand, through Rylee’s story and others, how a lack of safe access to medical cannabis can have negative impacts. Without medical cannabis access in states like Mississippi families are forced to move elsewhere to access cannabis or else children are stuck taking pharmaceuticals that have unbearable side effects.

Mississippi Advocates Want Medicine

How did you feel about cannabis before you became an advocate and had the experiences you’ve had?  

I’ve thought for a long time (since I was a teenager) cannabis should be legal. But for a lot different reasons than what drives me now. Mainly when I was younger, I believed it should be legal because it is a plant. I thought if alcohol and cigarettes were legal, why wasn’t cannabis? There were recorded deaths from alcohol and cigarettes, but not one from cannabis. It did not make sense to me.

Luckily, my parents did not raise me to believe cannabis was a bad thing. Now that I’m an advocate, I see it being used as medication and changing so many lives. I see cannabis being used as an exit from dangerous and harmful pharmaceuticals. I see so much potential. 

How skeptical at first were you that cannabis could help Rylee? 

I was not skeptical. I was hopeful. I saw what it could do for other patients all over the place, particularly with seizures. Was there a minuscule amount of doubt it would help Rylee specifically? Yes, absolutely. I had to prepare my heart for that, too. I’ve known Rylee and her family since she was a newborn. They are all so close to my heart. 

Rylee’s story is the reason I’m so unwavering in my advocacy now. A lot of people do not realize how bad Rylee was before moving to Colorado. But the hospital here sent her home to die. You have to read it a few times and purposefully take time to sit with that bit.

It’s hard. The hospital sent a five-year-old home to die. If it can help one, we owe it to them to try. We have no problems prescribing them dozens of pharmaceuticals; why do we have such issue with them trying a natural plant? If we can give benzodiazepines and opioids, we should be allowed to give cannabis.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of patient access in Mississippi? 

The biggest thing standing in our way today is legislators. When the people of Mississippi voted for Initiative 65, it passed with an overwhelming, nonpartisan majority. The initiative was written with a start date. The mayor of one town sued the Secretary of State claiming a discrepancy in the initiative process.

Mississippi has four congressional districts, but signatures for the initiative were collected in five districts. We have used five districts for the last 20 years for multiple reasons (state committees, other initiatives, judges, etc.) and no one mentioned it until medical cannabis won in November. But the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the mayor, and the initiative was overturned. 

Because of procedure, the legislators can not just enter the language of Initiative 65 as a bill. They had to start from square one. Luckily, we had a few legislators who have tried to get educated on cannabis. We just finished having two Senate committee hearings. Now, we have to wait for legislators to draft a bill. Then, it goes from the Senate to the House. All of that to say, the state would have been issuing patient cards in August 2021 and have product by fall 2021. We do not even have a bill at this point, so we are basically back to square one. 

The people of Mississippi have overwhelmingly stated they want medical cannabis. Now, we have to hold legislators accountable. The patients, specifically children, do not have more time. They need cannabis yesterday. We, as a people, are left with no way to bring another ballot initiative into the fight.

They overturned the whole initiative process. Our hands are tied. We have no choice but to wait this one out, and it’s infuriating. We have senators bringing up special sessions for license plates (for college World Series winners), but they refuse (so far) to have a special session for medical cannabis. It is a slap in the face to every, single patient and voter in this state. 

Our governor calling us “stoners” has to stop. These children having seizures are not stoners; they are patients. Patients with arthritis are not stoners. Patients with immune disorders are not stoners. Cancer patients are not stoners. Patients who use cannabis as medicine are not stoners. Cannabis was used as medicine in our country for longer than it has been illegal. The medicinal benefits of cannabis are astronomical.

Our bodies come equipped with endocannabinoid systems for a reason. We even have some senators and representatives who have insinuated Mississippians did not read the initiative when they voted. Mississippians knew exactly what they were voting for in November.

How do you want things to change in the next five or 10 years?

In the next five years, I’d love to have recreational cannabis in Mississippi. Mississippi is last on a lot of lists. A lot of issues can be resolved with the revenue generated from recreational cannabis. It could do marvelous things for our state economy.

Our education system could use a boost. Full, recreational cannabis would also include hopefully the expungement of all nonviolent cannabis offenses. People of color are held to a different standard in Mississippi when it comes to cannabis arrests and prosecution. No one should be serving a life sentence for cannabis. In 10 years, I would love to look back at all of this and laugh. 

Do you believe legal cannabis will become a reality on a federal level? If so, do you think it will change lives? 

I personally think cannabis has to become legal on a federal level. I do not believe the question is if but when. With so many states moving to make their own laws, I thought it would have happened by now, honestly. I am kind of flabbergasted it has not. You know oddly the only federal cannabis grow farm is in Mississippi. We need federal legalization now! Everyone should be reaching out to their representatives in D.C. requesting federal legalization. I absolutely, unequivocally know cannabis will change lives. 

What is the one thing you want people to take away when they hear your story? 

I want people to know there are a lot of people cannabis can help. A lot of children. I think when most people see this movement from the outside, they see adults who want cannabis. When, in reality, many who voted yes did so because of a child. When I spoke to the senate health and public welfare committee, I told the stories of three children. These three do not even scratch the surface of the number of pediatric patients in our state who could benefit from cannabis. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

If everyone spent time writing and calling your representatives, we could get this issue resolved—even on a federal level. We cannot change things without action. Action means a lot of different things in this scenario. Calling and writing your representatives.

Voting in every election. Preparing people for legislative positions and being willing to vote the ones out who do not honor our wishes. The mayor who brought this lawsuit has been in office for 40 years, and a lot of times, she ran unopposed. Check with your local alderman, your mayors, etc. Their opinions and stance on these issues do matter. 

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