Mississippi House amends medical cannabis bill, returns to Senate

Mississippi House amends medical cannabis bill, returns to Senate

by Geoff Pender, Mississippi Today

The House on Wednesday passed a Senate medical marijuana proposal, but only after changing the bill to lower the amount of cannabis a patient could get.

The amended bill now goes back to the Senate. If the Senate does not approve the House changes to the bill, it will move to conference committee, where leaders from both chambers will negotiate the specifics of a final bill.

The House vote on Wednesday was 104-14 on the amended Senate Bill 2095.

“This bill is about the people who are suffering,” said House Drug Policy Chairman Lee Yancey. “That has gotten lost in this debate … These are debilitating conditions, not something you can fake and go to a doctor and get cannabis.”

READ MORE: Senate vote on Mississippi medical marijuana bill expected Thursday. Here’s a look at the bill.

The House lowered the amount of “flower” a patient could receive from 3.5 ounces a month to 3 ounces a month. The Senate had previously lowered the amount from 4 ounces in its original draft to 3.5 ounces. The lowered amount is likely a nod to Gov. Tate Reeves, who had threatened a veto and said it allowed patients too much marijuana and would be a toehold for recreational use and the black market.

The House also removed the Department of Agriculture from any oversight of the program. State Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson had publicly objected to his office participating in the program.

In addition, the House amended the Senate bill to say that growing operations could be located in areas with local commercial zoning. The original bill said they could locate only in industrial and agricultural zoned areas.

Lawmakers are attempting to reenact a medical marijuana program after voters overwhelmingly passed one — Initiative 65 — in 2020, only to have it shot down on a technicality by the state Supreme Court. But the Legislature in this conservative state has struggled for years with the issue, despite growing voter sentiment that the state join most others in legalizing marijuana for medical use.

House members unsuccessfully attempted numerous other amendments to the Senate marijuana bill in both committee and on the floor, but they failed. They included measures to provide quicker expungement of criminal convictions to allow people to participate in the program, and to reduce or eliminate taxes on medical marijuana. Similar amendments had been unsuccessfully offered in the Senate when it passed the bill.

READ MORE: Senate overwhelmingly passes Mississippi medical marijuana

The bill allows patients with more than two dozen chronic, debilitating conditions, such as cancer and epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and spastic quadriplegia to be certified to purchase and use medical marijuana. Conditions can be added to the list only by the Department of Health. It allows physicians, certified nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and optometrists to certify patients for cannabis use. A patient has to have an in-person assessment, a “bona fide relationship” with the practitioner and a follow up assessment within six months. Only physicians can certify minors for use. For people aged 18-25 — most susceptible to abuse of the drug, drafters said — a doctor plus another practitioner have to sign off on certification.

The bill applies the state sales tax (currently 7%) to retail sales of cannabis. It also applies a 5% excise for cultivation and creates a tiered system of licenses and fees for growers and processors. Money collected goes into the state general fund.

The Senate bill has a prohibition on lawmakers voting on the measure or their spouses having an interest in a cannabis business for one year. Rep. Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, tried unsuccessfully to make that prohibition permanent and prevent lawmakers from “cashing in” and provide “integrity and transparency.” His amendment failed on a 69-39 vote.

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, unsuccessfully offered an amendment to allow outdoor growing to more easily allow Mississippi farmers to participate in the program. Like similar amendments offered in the Senate, it failed. Bill drafters said that indoor growing allows the program to be more easily monitored and regulated and prevent black market and organized crime infiltration of the program.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.