Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. Sept. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Lawmakers Trump Agency Heads

Andy Gipson doesn’t want to have anything to do with Mississippi’s probable legalization of medical marijuana.

The state’s agriculture commissioner has gone so far as to threaten to sue if the Legislature tries to force the regulatory responsibility upon him.

Granted, Gipson has a couple of legitimate beefs with the proposal that state lawmakers have hashed out in advance of an anticipated special session. The main one is that the proposed bill is not clear on how the regulatory responsibilities — split between the state departments of agriculture, health and revenue — would be funded. The proposal calls for taxing the marijuana, but it doesn’t earmark any of that revenue for regulation.

“The Mississippi Legislature is notorious for passing massive government programs and expanding bureaucracy without providing any way to pay for it,” said Gipson, himself a former lawmaker.

That problem can be fixed, though, with some revisions of the draft legislation.

What should not be negotiable, though, is letting any state agency head try to dictate what the agency will or won’t do, as long as what that agency is being asked to do by a higher governmental authority is legal.

Admittedly, there is technically some gray area there with medical marijuana. Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal, but the federal government has demonstrated for years no interest in enforcing that law. Medical marijuana is being grown and sold in 36 states now, and half of those also have legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. Federal law enforcement agencies have steered clear, as administrations from both parties have been content to let the states determine how to deal with marijuana.

Gipson’s objections, we suspect, are rooted largely in his other occupation, as a Baptist minister. Many conservative Christians such as Gipson are not comfortable with marijuana and consider it a vice. From that perspective, it is understandable why Gipson would not want to be personally involved in anything that promotes marijuana usage.

Nevertheless, he did not run for a religious position when he put his name on the ballot in 2019 to continue in the job to which he was previously appointed. It’s a secular post with secular duties. It makes sense for the Department of Agriculture to be involved in regulating the growth of a crop, even a previously illegal one, just as it does for the Department of Health to be involved in regulating its medical distribution.

In fact, one of the improvements the Legislature has made to Initiative 65, the voter-approved plan for medical marijuana that was thrown out on a technicality, is to not put the regulatory burden solely on the Health Department.

The Health Department, by the way, doesn’t want the responsibility for medical marijuana either, given that it’s already stretched thin in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. But someone has to have it, and it’s the Legislature’s job to determine which agency or agencies it should be.

If those who head these agencies don’t want to follow those marching orders, whether for practical reasons or moral ones, they have a readily available option. They can resign and let whoever replaces them deal with it.

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Tupelo Daily Journal. Sept. 30, 2021.

Editorial: No-knock warrants need to be severely limited in use

The Daily Journal published a special investigative series looking at the shooting death of a Monroe County man that was the result of a law enforcement serving a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night.

Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies served the warrant on Ricky Keeton at his residence at approximately 1 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015. Before the deputies rammed the door to enter, Keeton had heard sounds through his trailer wall and woke his girlfriend. According to his girlfriend — who was not injured — Keeton feared they were about to be robbed.

Authorities shot Keeton when he appeared at the door carrying a gun, which turned out to be a pellet pistol. The shooting was deemed justified, given that Keeton had a gun and reportedly raised and possibly fired it. In most any situation, a suspect raising a firearm at law enforcement would be grounds for use of lethal force.

But the family believes this situation is different, which is why they have filed a federal lawsuit against Monroe County law enforcement. The family believes authorities acted in an irresponsible manner that caused Keeton to take acceptable means to protect himself.

And that issue is at the heart of the use of no-knock warrants.

Unlike regular search or arrest warrants, no-knock warrants allow law enforcement to forcibly enter a residence or business without even announcing themselves.

The rationale for such warrants is often to protect evidence so that it cannot be destroyed or to prevent suspects from fleeing. And there are certainly legitimate situations in which such warrants are, well, warranted.

However, no-knock warrants are clearly abused. For instance, what was the need for a no-knock warrant on a trailer with limited points of exit and where deputies had gained access to the sewer lines to capture any evidence that was disposed of that way?

These kinds of warrants often put the lives of law enforcement in great danger. Entering a residence in such a forceful manner raises the likelihood of occupants firing back in what they believe to be self-defense. After all, we live in an area where firearms are kept close by for personal protection. It is a safe bet that if someone breaks into the majority of homes in rural Northeast Mississippi in the middle of the night, an awakened homeowner will greet them with the business end of a gun.

Law enforcement who serve these warrants are justified in shooting such suspects. But what happens when the weapon turns out not to be a pellet gun? Or — even worse — what happens when law enforcement has accidentally entered the wrong residence or were acting on faulty intelligence? This has happened in Mississippi and across the country.

The state needs to address the use of no-knock warrants, outlining when such warrants can be used. And the scope should be narrow — protecting both law enforcement and citizens. As it stands today, no-knock warrants are handed out like candy, leading to rampant overuse and abuse across Mississippi.

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Vicksburg Post. Oct. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Warren County set positive example with Youth Vaccination Day

The Warren County Board of Supervisors, Vicksburg Warren School District, Warren County Emergency Management and the NAACP Vicksburg Branch deserve a round of applause for the excellent turnout at last weekend’s Youth Vaccination Day event.

The event resulted in 173 people receiving vaccinations and made the occasion a family friendly affair. Officials from the Mississippi State Department of Health stated that Warren County’s turnout was far greater than similar pop-up vaccine sites in other parts of the state.

Sheer numbers aside, attendees reported seeing multiple generations from the same family in attendance. Shots, in general, can be scary for children (and some adults as well), so the notion that a vaccine event could be presented in a way that eliminates some fear is a positive step to increasing the number of vaccinated people.

Each entity involved in the planning and execution of this event contributed valuable resources. Whether it was contributing funds for vaccine incentives or simply the use of the organization’s network to spread the word, the community is indebted to them for their efforts.

The coronavirus vaccine is proven to be effective in preventing severe cases and hospitalizations. It saves lives and keeps our hospitals from being overrun. It can help keep our vulnerable loved ones safe.

Those who chose to get vaccinated on Saturday, and everyone else who made the decision to get the shot, also deserve thanks for their efforts to stamp out COVID-19.

Youth Vaccination Day wasn’t the only local chance to get vaccinated for coronavirus. During select days in October and November, Trustcare will be administering vaccines at the Vicksburg Convention Center. It’s up to us to do our part to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Consider getting the vaccine today.

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