Medical marijuana came a step closer to becoming a reality in Mississippi this afternoon as lawmakers in the Mississippi House of Representatives voted to approve a bill that would legalize it for some patients in the Magnolia State. The House bill is an amended version of the one that the Mississippi Senate passed last week.
In November 2020, Mississippians overwhelmingly voted to approve Initiative 65, which would have created a medical-marijuana program in the state late last year had the Mississippi Supreme Court not invalidated it in May 2021.
Initiative 65 would have created one of the nation’s most accessible medical-marijuana programs, but although state lawmakers say they feel it necessary to honor the voters’ wishes by creating a program, both Senate and House proposals are significantly more limited than the one voters approved.
‘One Of The Most Conservative Programs’ In U.S.
“This is not for everybody out on the street. This is not for a bunch of kids,” Mississippi House Drug Policy Chairman Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, said as he introduced the bill today. “… When I got involved in this bill, I said, ‘How can we build a wall around this program so that the people who get it are the people who need it the most and only the people who need it the most?’
“We put a THC limit on the content in our bill, 30% on flower and 60% on concentrates. We’re the only state who has put a THC limit on their content. We have lowered our dosage. We have one of the most conservative programs in the country.”
Yancey also explained the changes in the House bill from the one the Senate approved last week, including a reduction in the amount of medical marijuana patients are allowed each week.
“If you’re wondering what is different in our bill from the Senate bill, we made three changes and voted on those in committee: The first change was we reduced the monthly amount from 3.5 ounces to 3 ounces,” he said. “If you’ll remember in ballot initiative 65 the total amount was 5 ounces per month would be allowed. That’s what 62% of our state voted on was to have 5 ounces. And then we moved that to 4 ounces. And then the Senate passed 3.5 ounces. And now we are offering 3 ounces. We are offering 6 units of our Mississippi Medical Cannabis unit.”
Yancey said the House lawmakers wanted to ensure that “we are starting at a level that we can add to (later) and not starting too high where it would be hard to take from.”
“We want a medical program. This is a medical program. This is not a recreational program. This is for people who are sick,” Yancey said.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has repeatedly referred to the medical-marijuana proposals as a “recreational” program and threatened to veto them if they reach his desk, though legislators could overturn a veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers. He urged lawmakers to halve the amount of medical marijuana in lawmakers’ original proposals, but the Senate only reduced it from 4 ounces to 3.5 ounces.
Fewer Patients Qualify Than Under Initiative 65
Both bills in the House and Senate make it harder for patients whose conditions are not listed in the legislation to obtain medical-marijuana treatment than the law Mississippians voted to pass. Initiative 65 listed 22 specific illnesses, but gave doctors discretion to prescribe it to treat patients with other illnesses as well.
Under the Legislature’s proposal, patients with only 28 illnesses qualify, and the Mississippi State Department of Health must approve any additions. For example, the bill only allows the use of medical marijuana to treat one qualifying mental health condition: post traumatic stress disorder, which commonly affects military veterans.
— Rep. Shanda Yates (@yatesforhouse) January 19, 2022
The full list of conditions for which the House bill allows a patient to obtain a medical-marijuana card include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spastic Quadriplegia
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Sickle-cell anemia
- Agitation of dementia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Pain refractory to appropriate opioid management
- Aiabetic/peripheral neuropathy
- Spinal cord disease or severe injury
- A chronic, terminal or debilitating disease or medical condition that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome, chronic pain, severe or intractable nausea or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including, but not limited to, those characteristic of multiple sclerosis
‘I Find That To Be Deplorable’
During debate on the House floor Wednesday, several lawmakers offered amendments, including Rep. Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, who wanted to remove a combined 13% tax—including the regular 7% sales tax and a 5% excise tax—on medical marijuana from the bill.
“We call this a medical program, and it is being put together and put forth to try to help people who are hurting, who are sick, but we are going to tax them and make it a revenue generator for the state on the backs of those individuals who are suffering. I don’t know how you feel about that, but I have a lot of discomfort,” Eubanks said.
Yancey noted that excise tax, which is commonly referred to as a “sin tax,” is included because medical marijuana is still classified as an illegal Schedule I drug under federal law, though federal legislation could change that. Lawmakers can “cross that bridge when we come to it,” the chairman said.
Eubanks reiterated his opposition to the tax, but his amendment failed.
“To double-tax somebody that’s suffering in our state so that the general fund can have more revenue, I find that to be deplorable,” he said.
A similar amendment failed in the Mississippi Senate last week when it voted on its version of the medical-marijuana legislation.
The issue now returns to the Mississippi Senate, which could either agree to the House version of the bill or seek negotiations with the lower chamber for a final compromise bill.