The Mississippi Senate voted to approve a medical marijuana bill little more than a year since voters approved a separate measure to legalize medical cannabis at the ballot box. The result of the ballot vote was later overturned by a state Supreme Court ruling.
Should the House now approve the measure this legislative session, Mississippi could have a medical cannabis program by the end of this year.
Some state officials have criticized the measure as little more than a backdoor route towards a legal adult-use cannabis market. Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R), the bill’s primary sponsor, rejected this interpretation during a speech on the floor.
“I suggest that if you think that, maybe you should take the time and actually read the bill, because you’ll find that it is a medical bill,” he said.
Though voters overwhelmingly approved last year’s citizen-led medical cannabis ballot measure with more than 68 percent of the vote, the state Supreme Court nullified the result in May on procedural grounds, then refused to consider an appeal request.
Despite strong voter support for marijuana reform, Mississippi still has strict cannabis laws in place, with possession of more than 30 grams considered a felony.
The court’s decision was based on a state law which stipulates that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.”
The issue is that Mississippi has only had four congressional districts since 2000, making the requirement impossible to fulfil.
Since the ruling, Mississippi lawmakers have discussed how to proceed with the proposal and urged the governor to convene a special legislative session to get a medical cannabis bill approved, but Reeves chose not to.
The outcome now is Blackwell’s measure – SB 2095.
It would allow patients suffering from one or more of around two dozen medical conditions to seek medical cannabis treatment upon a physician’s recommendation. Further qualifying medical conditions could be added at a later date by the state medical cannabis regulator. Medical marijuana registration cards would cost $25, though this could be reduced or waived for those on lower incomes.
Marijuana reform advocates in Mississippi concede that Blackwell’s bill is something of a compromise between the expansive proposal favored by voters and the more restrictive version pursued by the governor and certain lawmakers.
In order to pass, the bill would require a three-fifths supermajority in both chambers.
Even if that happens, the bill would face another challenge in the form of Gov. Tate Reeves (R). He said he would veto the legislation due to its proposed purchase limits, which he claims are too high.
Blackwell proposes a daily purchase limit of 3.5 grams of cannabis flower, one gram of concentrate or up to 100 milligrams of THC infused in edibles. Though these proposed limits are much lower than those found in other states with medical cannabis programs, Reeves insists no more than half these amounts should be permitted. Blackwell included a monthly limit of 3.5 ounces of cannabis flower in response to Reeves’ concerns.
Neither medical cannabis patients nor their caregivers would be allowed to grow their own marijuana plants under the bill. Wholesales of medical cannabis would be taxed at 5 percent, while the retail sales tax rate is yet to be disclosed.
Smoking and vaping medical marijuana would continue to be prohibited in public, as well as in motor vehicles, as would driving while under the influence of cannabis.
The measure would install the Mississippi Department of Health as the state agency responsible for the medical cannabis program, in coordination with the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Department of Revenue. It would also create a nine-member advisory committee charged with studying and issuing recommendations concerning, for example, patient access and safety.