Gov. Reeves Signs Medical Marijuana Law; Allows Fewer Patients Than Initiative 65

a photo of Tate Reeves speaking in front of the state seal
Despite expressing some reservation, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed the Mississippi Cannabis Act into law, citing its more restrictive nature compared to the medical marijuana program Mississippi voters adopted in a 2020 ballot initiative. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Thousands of Mississippians with specific medical conditions will soon be able to receive medical-marijuana treatment with a physician’s approval after Gov. Tate Reeves signed the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act into law late Wednesday. In recent months, he has expressed reservations about the law, but both chambers of the Legislature passed the bill with veto-proof majorities.

“The ‘medical marijuana bill’ has consumed an enormous amount of space on the front pages of legacy media outlets across Mississippi over the last 3+ years,” the governor said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “There is no doubt that there are individuals in our state who could do significantly better if they had access to medically prescribed doses of cannabis.

“There are also those who really want a recreational marijuana program that could lead to more people smoking and less people working with all of the societal and family ills that that brings.” 

(Statistics show that Colorado’s labor force participation rate is about the same as it was when that state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 despite a pandemic dip in 2020).

More Limited Than Voters Approved

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 felt it necessary to honor the voters’ wishes by creating a program, the new law is significantly more limited than the one voters approved. It restricts doctors to only treating patients with a set number of diagnoses that the State of Mississippi determines; reduces the amount of marijuana allowed each month to 3 ounces from the 5 ounces voters approved; and limits the amount of THC in medical marijuana.

“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 when he announced the bill on the House floor last month. “… We have lowered our dosage. We have one of the most conservative programs in the country.”

The Republican lawmaker acknowledged that the Legislature’s bill was significantly more restrictive than the program that 68% of Mississippi voters approved in 2020.

“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.”

Only 28 Illnesses Eligible

The voter-approved medical-marijuana law 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. People with other mental illness diagnoses do not qualify under the Legislature’s law.

A photo of Mississippi House Rep. Lee Yancey on the MS House floor
Mississippi House Rep. Lee Yancey introduced the amended medical marijuana bill on the House floor on Jan. 19, 2022. The bill included some changes from the Senate version, including a reduction in the amount of medical marijuana allowed from 3.5 ounces to 3 ounces. Screenshot courtesy Mississippi Legislature

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
  • Glaucoma
  • Hepatitis
  • Spastic Quadriplegia
  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Sickle-cell anemia
  • Agitation of dementia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Autism
  • 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

Under the law, medical marijuana will be taxed under the regular 7% sales tax with an additional 5% excise tax. In his statement, Reeves reiterated that he has misgivings about the current medical-marijuana bill despite the addition of restrictions he requested, such as “protect(ing) our schools and churches from having a marijuana dispensary within fewer than 1,000 feet of their location.”

“I have made it clear that the bill on my desk is not the one that I would have written. But it is a fact that the legislators who wrote the final version of the bill (the 45th or 46th draft) made significant improvements to get us towards accomplishing the ultimate goal,” the governor said.

Because of the reduction in the amount of marijuana allowed under the bill from 5 ounces to 3 ounces, Reeves said, “there will be hundreds of millions of fewer joints on the streets.” The changes he cited also include a requirement that medical professionals “can only prescribe within the scope of his/her practice” and that “it requires an in-person visit by the patient to the medical professional.”

“Now, hopefully, we can put this issue behind us and move on to other pressing matters facing our state,” the governor said.

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