Mississippi is still months away from opening its first medical marijuana dispensary. The Mississippi State Department of Health plans to start accepting online applications for licenses for patients, medical practitioners, and cannabis cultivation facilities in June. Advocates who worked on getting the bill passed say it’s now about educating the public on the bill.
“By 2025, the medical cannabis industry in Mississippi will bring in $800 million annually,” said Melvin Robinson, communications director for the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association. “With developing this program, you will see the culture change. It’s gone from “weed” to cannabis, and people are talking about the medicinal effects.”
In November 2020, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 65, a citizen-driven ballot initiative to create a state medical marijuana program. However, in May 2021, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the measure, ruling that the state election law governing voter ballot initiatives was out-of-date. Lawmakers then scrambled to adjust and craft a bill that would work. In January, the legislature approved Senate Bill 2095, the “Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act.”
It drew heavily from provisions negotiated by lawmakers in the first initiative. Supporters said the new proposal represented a middle ground between the more permissive plan approved by voters and the narrower approach preferred by Governor Tate Reeves and some lawmakers. Reeves officially signed the bill into law on February 2, making Mississippi the 37th state to do so. Robinson says there is still work to fight against some of the wild misconceptions some still have about cannabis.
“There was a lot of ‘reefer madness’ going around. You had a lot of big corporations sending out flyers to try and scare people,” he said. “A lot of the power in this state has been able to remain in power because of fear. This is a plant. It is healthier than opioids. It’s an alternative type of care.”
The act lists twenty medical conditions and categories of conditions for which an individual would be eligible for a medical marijuana card in Mississippi, including cancer, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, any “chronic, terminal, or debilitating” condition producing chronic pain, and “any other condition” that may be added by the Mississippi Department of Health in the future. The act makes clear that it prohibits “smoking medical [marijuana] in a public place or in a motor vehicle.” A patient must have at least one of the qualifying medical conditions and a written certification from a health care practitioner. They must then apply for a $25 registration card.
Unlike many other state medical marijuana legalization laws, the Mississippi act does not contain any express employment protections for medical marijuana cardholders. The State Health Department will create regulations, including seed-to-sale tracking, recordkeeping, oversight, security, health and safety, transportation, employee training, capital requirements, standards for safe processing, and to ensure safe and accurate labeling and packaging. They will also restrict advertising, signage, and displays.
Robinson says the cannabis industry is going to be a huge revenue generator for the state. He says there is talk of certain demographics being frozen out of the industry, but those fears aren’t valid. Black business owners will indeed have a chance to take advantage of the new bill.
“We will have unlimited numerical licensing caps. It’s not one of those things where you’ll have to pay a million dollars to get a license,” he said. “There’s definitely room for everyone to get involved.
You’ll have micro-cultivators and cultivators. Micro-cultivators can have a facility up to 2,000 square feet. The licensing fee will be $1,500 with an annual fee of $2,000. The fees go up as the size of the buildings increase.
Any cannabis that is grown and cultivated in Mississippi cannot be transported out of the state for use elsewhere. Patients and caregivers are not allowed to grow their own cannabis. Cultivation, harvesting, processing, and packaging must occur in the registered enclosed, locked, and secure facility. Cannabis products must have what the bill calls “a notice of harm” regarding the use of cannabis products. Edibles cannot be formed into images of cartoons, toys, or animals.
Robinson says now, with the legalization of medical marijuana, he doesn’t think it will be long before the state begins a discussion on its recreational use. He says, looking at the data from other states, the timetable has shrunk.
“When California went medical in 1996, it took them 7,000 days before they went recreational. Massachusetts took 1,500 days. For each state that’s bringing the program, you see the timeframe getting less and less,” he said. “I’m of the opinion Mississippi will have recreational in three years. And I see cannabis being decriminalized in that period as well. The writing is on the wall.”