From a public policy standpoint, I could make a very strong case, as did Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley, that our decades-long war on drugs has been a failure.

No different than our previous government prohibitions, major criminal enterprises are the big winners. In essence, our government drives up illegal drug values by interfering with the market in the name of protecting people from their own choices. The benefactors are often the largest cartels who benefit from the lack of competition that results from our actions. Prohibitions on legal alcohol sales, for example, did not reduce the supply of alcohol. It was just as readily available in times of prohibition.

The difference was that bootleggers and speakeasies, essentially criminal entrepreneurs, did the supplying and U.S. consumers were made into criminals by seeking a drink. The same economic law applies to drugs.

I am not, however, trying to make the case for the legalization of recreational marijuana. Instead, I am using the prohibition example to demonstrate the absurdity of opposing the legalization of medical marijuana.

The gubernatorial debate on Tuesday night revealed the unanimous policy viewpoints of the three Republican candidates. To my surprise, each candidate clearly opposed the legalization of medical marijuana. They did so for various reasons, none of which I thought were compelling. For candidates who should be in favor of limited government, liberty, and personal responsibility, the responses were perplexing.

One opposing argument was essentially that Mississippi has no right to make legal the use of medical marijuana and must defer to the federal government on the classification of drugs. In fact, the federal government has no legal authority to prevent states from changing their laws to remove state-level penalties for medical marijuana use and we have at least 34 examples of this.

There was, of course, the claim that using medical marijuana will be a “gateway” to other drugs. Medical marijuana is not the same as recreational marijuana and trying to conflate the two is an insult to the citizens of Mississippi and comes at the expense of patients who should be free to choose a legal option to opiate-based painkillers, with the guidance of their doctor.

Rather than trying to turn this issue into a “law and order” one and attempting to convince us that patients suffering from debilitating illnesses and the doctors caring for them are either criminals or fledgling addicts, our politicians should focus on removing this unnecessary barrier and letting people make choices about their own health care.

The gubernatorial responses also indicated a lack of knowledge about how their fellow Americans and Mississippians feel about the issue. Recent polling demonstrates that citizens are ahead of politicians and legislators across the county on this issue, with anywhere from as low as 65% to as high as 94% of Americans supporting the legalization of medical marijuana. In Mississippi, 77% of voters support it, including 75% of Republicans. It spans all ages, races, and party affiliations. It even includes 69% of frequent churchgoers. 

A vast majority of Americans recognize the legitimate medical benefits of marijuana, as well as a large number of medical organizations. It is less harmful and poses fewer negative side effects than most prescription drugs – especially opiate-based painkillers – and patients often find it to be a more effective treatment.

Licensed medical doctors, already heavily regulated by the state, should be allowed to prescribe solutions to deal with debilitating medical conditions, no matter the derivative of such solutions. If marijuana can provide relief to those suffering from terrible illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS, it is unconscionable to prevent it, much less to criminalize patients for using it. People who would benefit from medical marijuana should have right to use it legally. As I outlined in the opening paragraph, legal prohibitions on commonly accepted behavior has never produced positive results. It is simply bad public policy.

Government is already regulating the health care industry at an unprecedented level. The federal government has grown into an unwieldy and unresponsive beast – increasing its paternalism over us all.

I believe Mississippi should join the other states who value federalism and respect the rights of patients and licensed doctors to decide what is best. Based on the progress thus far, I think it is highly likely the 2020 referendum on medical marijuana will pass.

For liberty-minded conservatives, this is an easy decision. It should have been the same for the gubernatorial candidates.