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Mississippi Lawmakers Move to Implement Medical Cannabis Legislation

After months of negotiating, lawmakers in Mississippi reached a deal this week to implement a new medical marijuana law in the state.

Mississippi Today reported that “legislative negotiators and leaders have agreed on a draft of medical marijuana legislation,” and that they are “anticipated to ask Governor Tate Reeves as early as Friday to call the Legislature into special session.”

The approach to Reeves could be significant, as the report noted that the first term Republican governor “has sole authority to call lawmakers into special session, and would set the date and parameters of a special session.”

“Although legislative leaders have expressed interest in dealing with COVID-19 and other issues in a special session, Reeves has appeared unwilling but said he would call a session for medical marijuana, pending lawmakers are in agreement and he agrees with the measure,” the report said. 

In May, Reeves said that a special session to address medical marijuana was “certainly a possibility.” 

For medical cannabis advocates and would-be patients of the treatment, the legislative wrangling has been a long, and at times frustrating, process.

Nearly 70 percent of Mississippi voters approved a ballot initiative last year that legalized medical marijuana for a host of qualifying conditions including cancer, epilepsy or other seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cachexia (weakness and wasting due to chronic illness), post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV+, AIDS, chronic or debilitating pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, glaucoma, agitation from dementia, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, sickle-cell anemia and autism. 

Under Initiative 65, qualifying patients could legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis.

But the new law hit a major snag in May, when the state’s Supreme Court struck down Initiative 65 citing a strange and obscure provision in the state’s constitution. In the 6-3 ruling, the majority justices “ held the initiative had to be struck down because of an odd flaw in the state constitution’s voter initiative process,” NBC News reported at the time. 

“Passed in the 1990s, the measure called for a percentage of signatures to come from each of the state’s five congressional districts to get on the ballot,” NBC reported. “But, the judges noted, the state lost one of those congressional districts thanks to the 2000 U.S. Census, and now only has four districts.”

After that ruling, lawmakers in Mississippi went back to the drawing board to create a new medical marijuana program to supplant Initiative 65. 

Negotiations ran through the summer, with state lawmakers and other agencies hearing testimony from both advocates and opponents to medical cannabis. 

The breakthrough finally arrived on Thursday. Mississippi Today reported that some legislative leaders “released some details of the proposal—which had been kept close to the vest for months—such as that cities and counties will be allowed to ‘opt out’ of having medical marijuana cultivation or dispensaries, although local voters can override this.”

“City councils or aldermen, or county boards of supervisors, within 90 days of passage of legislation, could opt out from allowing cultivation or dispensing of medical marijuana within their borders,” the report explained. Voters in those cities and counties could force a referendum to rejoin the medical marijuana program if they gathered 1,500 signatures or 20 percent of the voters, according to the report.

Other notable provisions in the draft proposal include that smokable cannabis would be permitted, and that the state’s sales tax of seven percent would be imposed on medical marijuana. But the lawmakers have closed the door on personal cultivation, with Mississippi Today reporting that “outdoor growing would not be allowed, nor home growing.”

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