This past February, Mississippi became the 37th state in the US to legalize medical marijuana, following the passage of legislation permitting patients with qualifying health-related conditions to use cannabis medicinally. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill, the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, after threatening to veto the legislation if lawmakers didn’t relent to the changes he demanded.
The Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, also known as Senate Bill 2095, allows patients with “debilitating” medical conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, autism and sickle cell disease to register with the state’s medical marijuana program with a recommendation from a qualifying health care provider. Registered patients with an identification card issued by the state health department will be permitted to purchase up to 3.5 grams of cannabis per day from licensed dispensaries up to six times per week, although it will likely be months before regulated retailers begin serving patients.
In a Feb. 2 Facebook post, Reeves announced that he still had reservations with the legislation. “I have made it clear that the bill on my desk is not the one that I would have written,” he wrote. “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.”
Mississippi Voters Approved Medical Marijuana In 2020
Reeves’ reluctant approval of Senate Bill 2095 is the culmination of a legislative and litigious saga to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi. In November 2020, the state’s voters approved Initiative 65, a ballot measure to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis. But only days before the election, opponents sued to block the measure, citing flaws in the state’s initiative process. In May 2021, Initiative 65 was struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court in a decision that invalidated the state’s initiative process.
Prompted into action by the 68% of Mississippi voters who approved the legalization of medical marijuana in the 2020 general election, state lawmakers then set themselves to the task. In September 2021, negotiators with the Mississippi Senate and House of Representatives announced that they had reached an agreement on a medical cannabis plan with significant differences compared to Initiative 65, including provisions that would allow local jurisdictions to regulate where medical marijuana could be cultivated, processed and sold. In December, Reeves threatened to veto the proposal if lawmakers failed to make changes to the legislation to satisfy his objections. After making amendments to the bill, both houses of the Mississippi legislature approved the legislation with a veto-proof majority the following month.
“The ‘medical marijuana bill’ has consumed an enormous amount of space on the front pages of the legacy media outlets across Mississippi over the last three plus years,” Reeves continued in his social media post. “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.”
In his statement, Reeves noted the changes in the legislation that he considers improvements to the bill, including an amendment that reduces the amount of cannabis a patient can purchase under the program to three ounces per month, a cut of about 40% from the ballot measure approved by voters. Other changes to the bill mentioned by the governor include provisions that prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools and churches and another that bars the Mississippi Development Authority from offering financial incentives to the cannabis industry.
After Reeves signed the legislation, cannabis legalization advocacy groups including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said the approval marks the end of fight to enact voters’ wishes.
“Marijuana access is long overdue for Mississippi’s patients,” NORML state policies manager Jax James said in a statement from the group. “The overwhelming majority of voters decided in favor of this policy change over a year ago, and for the past 14 months, the will of the people has been denied.”
However, James went on to express reservations about some provisions of the legislation, including a 5% excise tax in addition to the 7% sales tax levied on medical marijuana purchases.
“We remain concerned that lawmakers saw fit to add unnecessary taxes on cannabis products, that patients are prohibited from home-cultivating limited amounts of cannabis for their own personal use and that those with chronic pain are restricted from accessing cannabis products until first using more dangerous and addictive substances like opioids,” she said.