House passes amended medical marijuana bill

After concerns that sent the measure through several tweaks, the Mississippi House of Representatives finally passed by a vote of 104 to 14 an amended medical marijuana legalization bill that Governor Tate Reeves could well appreciate.

This means that later this year a system could be put in place to regulate and sell cannabis to registered patients. But that will only happen if the Senate and the Governor get on board.

Although the Senate passed a legalization measure last week, Reeves threatened a veto if the bill remained as is, despite going against the legalization initiative passed by voters in 2020, in a sign of strong support for the compassionate use of marijuana.

The Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the broad legalization initiative passed in November 2020 on procedural grounds, simultaneously removing the entire state initiative process. A poll released in June found that a majority of Mississippi voters support legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.

Tighter restrictions seem to be the main issue with those who oppose the legalization measure. Opponents say they don’t want marijuana use made recreational by law.

House legislation allows patients with eligible medical conditions to purchase the equivalent of 3.5 grams of marijuana (or 1 gram of cannabis concentrate) per day, with a maximum monthly limit of 3 ounces, Ben wrote. Adlin at the Marijuana Moment website. Another amendment would remove the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce from overseeing the industry, instead giving that role to the Department of Health.

The new plan does not limit the number of licensed businesses, but allows local governments to impose zoning restrictions or even circumvent the law entirely within 90 days. Voters would have the opportunity to later challenge this decision.

Another House amendment states that cannabis cultivators and processors, who under the Senate bill could only be located in areas of agricultural and industrial use, could locate in areas of commercial use.

Despite the governor’s past opposition to medical marijuana bills, Reeves indicated this week that he felt more positive about the latest bill, noting that he had heard it was the 46and version of it. “…The good news is that as each version gets written, the bill gets better,” Reeves said Tuesday on a morning radio show from Mississippi.

He referred to what he saw as positive provisions in the current bill that reduce purchase limits, allow law enforcement to conduct background checks on potential business owners, impose restrictions such as that mandatory parental consent for patients under 18, require recommendations from two healthcare professionals for patients aged 18 to 25, and establish a nine-member advisory committee to advise on issues such as patient access and industry safety.

Eligible conditions under the bill include cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, Alzheimer’s disease, sickle cell disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, neuropathy, spinal cord disease or serious injury. Chronic medical conditions or treatments that produce severe nausea, cachexia or weight loss, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms, or chronic pain are also included. Other conditions could be added later by the regulators via a petition.

State-issued patient registration cards would cost $25, though some people may qualify for a lower price. These registered patients would be subject to purchase limits that would limit them to no more than one “medical cannabis equivalence unit” per day, which the bill defines as 3.5 grams of cannabis flower, a gram of concentrate or up to 100 milligrams of THC in infused products. However, Reeves said last year that the program should only allow half of those amounts.

Patients or caregivers would be prohibited from growing their own cannabis under the proposal. Products from state-licensed companies, meanwhile, would be limited to 30% THC for cannabis flower and 60% for concentrates. Medical marijuana would be taxed at a wholesale rate of 5%, and purchases would also be subject to state sales tax.

Smoking and vaping cannabis in public or in motor vehicles would be illegal, and it would remain a crime for patients to drive under the influence.

The program could be operational, at least in a limited form, by the end of this year. Licensing would begin 120 days after the bill is passed, with the first licenses issued within a month.

Cannabis businesses may need to obtain local permission to operate, and in general, local governments cannot outright ban medical cannabis businesses or “render their operation impractical,” the bill says. However, a separate provision would allow local governments to opt out of the program altogether within 90 days of the bill’s passage. In such cases, citizens could then request that the matter be put to a vote.

The House rejected expunging criminal convictions for cannabis-related activity and capping excise taxes at 5%. Another rejected amendment would have extended the bill’s ban on lawmakers with an interest in cannabis businesses to a four-year period, instead of until December.

The bill needs three-fifths majority support in both houses to make it to Reeves’ office.

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