The Mississippi state legislature and the state’s governor have long struggled to collectively arrive at a working definition of “medical marijuana,” but recently there’s been tremendous progress on that front.
In an overwhelming 104-14 vote on Wednesday, Mississippi’s House of Representatives passed an amended legalization bill. Pending Senate approval and Gov. Tate Reeves’ (R) signature, it could make medical marijuana available to registered patients in the state later this year.
Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R), the bill’s lead sponsor, and the entirety of his Senate colleagues approved the bill prior to its arrival on the House floor. The impetus for drafting such legislation was spurred by a 2020 voter-passed legalization initiative that strongly supported compassionate use of cannabis. However, it (and the process that created it) was later overturned by Mississippi’s state Supreme Court on a technicality, leaving legislators reeling to quickly act upon the electorate’s will.
To put the bill’s journey in context, Gov. Reeves stated that he’d heard from senators that this current version was its 46th iteration. While the drudgery is, on one hand, undoubtedly frustrating, on the other hand it represents an open and ongoing—if contentious—dialogue among the relevant stakeholders to see the issue through.
The crux of what the governor believes elevates the bill to true “medical marijuana” legislation status hovers around the restrictions it imposes, specifically purchase and possession limits. Under the House-passed version, registered patients would be permitted to purchase the equivalent of 3.5 grams of marijuana (or one gram of cannabis concentrate) per day, with a maximum monthly limit of three ounces (down from a 3.5-ounce limit in the original Senate version). Without the reduction, Reeves estimates, up to 1.2 billion joints could be floating around in Mississippi if every eligible individual maxed out their purchase limit.
Regardless of the accuracy (or plausibility) of Reeves’ calculations, legislators have painstakingly built the following safeguards into the bill, which include:
- Allowing law enforcement to perform background checks on would-be business owners and impose restrictions such as mandatory parental consent for patients under 18 and required recommendations from two healthcare practitioners for patients between 18 and 25.
- Switching cannabis industry oversight from the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce to the state Department of Health.
- Setting no cap on the number of licensed businesses under the plan, but local governments may impose zoning restrictions and even opt out of the law entirely within 90 days (subject to voter challenge).
- Home cultivation would be expressly prohibited, and products from state-licensed companies would be limited to 30 percent THC for cannabis flower and 60 percent for concentrates.
- Public and/or in-vehicle smoking and vaping of cannabis would be illegal, as well as driving under the influence.
- Qualifying conditions under the bill include (but wouldn’t be limited to) cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, Alzheimer’s, sickle-cell anemia, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, neuropathy, spinal cord disease or severe injury as well as chronic medical conditions or treatments that produce severe nausea, cachexia or wasting, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms or chronic pain.
Although medical cannabis is not what Mississippi is burning just yet, elected officials continue to burn the midnight oil to finally bring compassionate care to patients in the state most in need of it.