It seems like even the most conservative of states are re-evaluating their stance on cannabis legalization. South Carolina, one of fourteen states upholding cannabis prohibition laws, might see some change coming soon as Senator Davis prepares to present his bill to the Senate Floor in the coming days.
Similar progress is being made in just a few states west of South Carolina. Per Marijuana Moment, the Mississippi House of Representatives has shown their support for establishing a medical cannabis program in the state in a 104–14 vote of an amended bill. The changes directly addressed the concerns of Gov. Tate Reeves, who is seemingly less hesitant about legalizing medical marijuana now than he was before. If the Senate approves the bill’s changes, it’ll be left to Gov. Reeves’ to sign off on the legislation and establish a compassionate use program for patients.
Reeves’ stance has changed in the past few months. After the state’s Senate passed a version of the legalization bill earlier this month, Democrats and Republicans pushed back against the amendments. However, Reeves’ threats to veto the bills have simmered down, declaring that each amendment has made the bill “better.”
The House Drug Policy Committee chair Rep. Lee Yancey and the main sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Kevin Blackwell, have been working together to bring the bill to the House Floor. Yancey said that he’s astonished that there’s even consideration to pass the legislation. However, he said the initiative for the bill received significant support among citizens who hope to see a medical marijuana program established.
Reeves and other opponents have expressed concerns over the bill, demanding tighter restrictions. Many of the revisions to the legislation have worked to appease critics while remaining committed to providing legalized compassionate use to citizens who need it to most. Yancey explained that he’s aimed to create restrictive measures on the bill. His first challenge was how he could “build a wall around this program” to provide medical cannabis to “hurting people with debilitating conditions.” He said that the program’s structure doesn’t aim to introduce a recreational market that would be easily accessible to people “out on the street” or “a bunch of kids.”
If the House passes the bill, patients would be able to access upwards of 3.5 grams of cannabis, or one gram of concentrate, per day for a maximum of three ounces per month. Previously, the legislation allowed for a 3.5 oz—a limit which the Senate once passed. The amendment forced lawmakers to cut down on purchasing limits.
There are other issues that lawmakers are facing before passing the bill. One of the amendments made was in regards to cannabis industry oversight. The House Drug Policy Committee attached to the bill a request to remove the Department of Agriculture and Commerce from controlling the cannabis market; instead, he suggested putting the responsibility on the shoulders of the Department of Health. Andy Gipson, Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner, said that he, nor his department, should carry duties of regulating the medical marijuana market, citing federal prohibition as a conflict for his team. However, Gipson also mentioned earlier that week that he’s gearing up for the role if asked by lawmakers.
The bill doesn’t necessarily offer any restrictions to issuing licenses to businesses in Mississippi, though it seems the responsibilities will be under local governments’ discretion. They could put zoning restrictions in place, and specific local governments have the authority to refuse cannabis businesses from opening up shops. That wouldn’t be the final say on the matter, though, as voters might be able to reverse those decisions. Additionally, another revision in the legislation would allow cultivators and processors to open up operations in commercial zones rather than agricultural and industrial zones that the Senate suggested.
The Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, which contains over 20 qualifying conditions, was sent to the governor’s desk where he’ll be able to either sign off or veto the bill, per National Law Review. The overwhelming support for the bill could help override a potential veto if that’s the case. It seems nearly inevitable that Mississippi could leave the group of 14 states that have yet to move forward with cannabis reform laws. Citizens might be seeing more prescription vials for cannabis shortly.