After the Mississippi Supreme Court in May shot down a medical marijuana initiative heavily approved by voters last November, negotiations dragged on for months. Legislative leaders on Thursday finally reached a deal on the legislation. They will ask Gov. Tate Reeves as early as Friday, September 24, to call a special session of the Legislature, reports Mississippi Today.
Some details of the proposal which had been kept secret for months were released on Thursday by lawmakers. The bill runs more than 100 pages.
Cities and counties will be allowed to “opt out” of having medical marijuana cultivation or dispensaries. However, local voters can override this.
House Speaker Philip Gunn on Thursday said House and Senate negotiators are “in agreement.”
Gunn said he believes both chambers have the votes to pass such a measure. He said he planned to meet with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, then absent any last minute problems, “inform the governor we are ready.”
Request Could Happen Friday
Sources on Thursday told Mississippi Today they expect that request to the governor would happen as soon as Friday. Reeves has sole authority to call lawmakers into special session. He would set the date and parameters of a special session.
Reeves has said he would call a session for medical marijuana, pending lawmakers are in agreement and he agrees with the measure.
Gunn in his radio interview on Thursday gave some particulars of the bill, but said “don’t hold me to it” and deferred to Rep. Lee Yancey (R-Brandon), the lead House negotiator on the measure. Yancey has worked with Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), the lead Senate negotiator.
Yancey shared with Mississippi Today some highlights of the draft bill, which would be subject to changes by the full Legislature. They include:
Cities and Counties Could Opt Out; Voters Could Opt Back In
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.
However, voters could gather 1,500 signatures, or signatures of 20% of voters, whichever is less, and force a referendum on the issue. If such a referendum to allow it fails, voters could try again in two years, similar to state alcohol referenda.
Yancey said that under the draft measure, “Once it’s in, it’s in,” meaning once approved, a locality could not come back and ban it. According to Yancey, that gives businesses the certainty they need to get started.
Smoking Cannabis Would Be Allowed
There had been debate on whether Mississippi’s program would allow smoking of cannabis by patients, as most states with programs allow. The other, less enlightened and less useful option, of course, is to prohibit it, as Alabama does with its recently approved program.
“There are those who have certain debilitating conditions who need the effects of medical cannabis to take effect immediately,” Yancey said. “Ingesting a gummy or something like that could take 45 minutes to an hour.
“Whether it’s terrible seizures or pain and suffering or not being able to eat, there are those who need relief as immediately as possible,” Yancey said “There are those who look at this from a bias of recreational use, but that’s not apples to apples, not fair. There are people who are suffering, who need the palliative relieve medical cannabis can provide, and our main goal is to allow people who are suffering terrible illnesses to get relief.”
Kudos to Yancey and other negotiators for not settling for as weak a bill as ailing Alabamians got!
Medical Marijuana Would Be Subject To Sales Tax Plus An Excise
The state’s sales tax, currently at 7%, would be levied on medical marijuana, as well as a $15 an ounce excise tax. Yancey said the goal was to have a 5% excise, but that going rates for marijuana vary by potency and product. The weight-based tax was therefore the easiest way to get near that mark.
Weight for edibles and other product would be based on the Cannabis weight alone, not including food or other product. Yancey said this tax rate would put Mississippi roughly in the middle of states with legalized medical Cannabis.
“The going rate for mid-range (marijuana flower) is about $300 an ounce, so if you do the math, $15 an ounce would be around the 5%,” Yancey said. “If a product sold for lower, you would pay higher than that rate, if sold for more, you would pay less.”
“It will contribute to all parts of Mississippi’s economy like all other businesses do,” said Yancey, reports WLBT.
Outdoor Growing Or Home Growing Would Not Be Allowed
Officials from other states told lawmakers during hearings this summer that regulating the growing and safety of medical marijuana is easier with indoor growing facilities. They definitely took that ball and ran with it.
Yancey said the draft as it stands does not allow any home growing by patients.
What this does, in effect, obviously, is greatly reduce access for low-income patients. Many of these patients almost certainly will not be able to pay dispensary prices for medicine they could easily grow for themselves. Sadly, this won’t be the first or last time the needs of low-income patients will be ignored.
The State Health Department Would Be In Charge
The Mississippi State Department of Health would oversee the state’s medical Cannabis program. But the state’s taxing and agriculture agencies would share some regulatory duties.
There’s one tiny kink in that plan. State Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson seems determined that everyone know how backwards he is when it comes to medical Cannabis.
Gipson has told lawmakers he will not participate in regulating the stuff, because marijuana is still federally illegal. Gipson has actually threatened to sue if lawmakers try to force him to participate, i.e., do his damned job.
Yancey said the proposal would allow Gipson to subcontract growing regulations to someone else. It must be nice having an employer who tiptoes around your neuroses and subcontracts your duties to someone else when you throw a hissy fit band refuse to perform them!
“In a sense Andy wouldn’t have to do it himself, he could farm it out, no pun intended,” Yancey said.
Preference Given To In-State Companies
Cultivator licenses will be awarded in tiers. These range from “micro cultivators” to large ones, based on square footage of canopy space. Micro growers, under 2,000 square feet, must be “100% Mississippi resident participation.”
Larger ones would have to have 35% Mississippi ownership to begin with. That requirement will expire after one year.
Yancey said this could help the state avoid lawsuits other states have faced from out-of-state growers. He said there would be a similar setup for processors, based on poundage of product they produce.
Potency Would Be Regulated
Yancey said there would be THC potency limits of 30% on flower, 60% on concentrates and infused products. He said any product above 30% THC would have to have a warning label.
Mississippi patients will likely fight the abritrary and unnecessary 60% THC limit on concentrates. Quality concentrates in other states often exceed 80% THC, best for rapid tremor or nausea control.
‘Critically Important To Go Ahead And Address This Issue’
“In January, we’ll do reapportionment, both congressional level and the state level, and also different COVID money that we have to spend,” explained state Sen. Hillman Frazier. “So, it’ll be very beneficial to the taxpayers if we come back and only focus on one bill, medical marijuana.”
“I believe it is critically important to go ahead and address this issue as a standalone issue, because voters voted overwhelmingly last November,” added Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons.
“We are looking forward to reviewing the legislature’s work and working together on getting this done,” said Bailey Martin, Gov. Reeves’ press secretary.