Mississippi Medical Marijuana

Workers harvest marijuana plants at the Solar Therapeutics facility in Massachusetts. The Supreme Court’s elimination of the Mississippi medical marijuana program has halted millions of dollars worth of planned in-state spending and job creation, leaving many business owners with little to show for their months of investment and efforts.

 

TUPELO • Legislative leaders have agreed on a draft of medical marijuana legislation that includes opt-out provisions for local governments and bars legislators from having any type of financial stake in a medical marijuana business.

Lawmakers are delivering the draft of the bill to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and anticipate his response soon.

Details of the marijuana legislation began to emerge after House leaders caucused the GOP members together this week.

Bailey Martin, the spokesperson for the governor, said that Reeves is “looking forward to reviewing the Legislature’s work and working together on getting this done.”

State Rep. Lee Yancey, one of the engineers of the legislation, said the governor could advise legislative leaders of any changes before or after he calls a special session.

Yancey, a Republican from Brandon, shared some of the main provisions with the Daily Journal:

Local government opt-outs

Local counties and municipalities will have the option to opt out of allowing dispensaries from operating within their boundaries. But if either 1,500 registered voters or 20% of registered voters in an area — whichever is greater — submit a petition, it would trigger special election.

Yancey said the referendum would likely take place within 60 days of the petition’s certification. If such a vote to allow the operation of dispensaries fails, voters could try again in two years.

Excise and sales taxes to be levied

A 7% sales tax and an excise tax would be levied on medical marijuana with a $15 an ounce excise tax. Because the weight of cannabis varies, Yancey said that legislators agreed to tax the product by weight. The $15 an ounce tax, Yancey said, would equate to a 5% excise tax, on average.

“This is based on a $300 an ounce price for cannabis,” Yancey said.

Distance Restrictions will apply 

Medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities cannot be located within 1,000 feet from a church, child care facility or a school building. But owners of the marijuana facilities will have an opportunity to ask the owner or lead authority of the school, church or child care business to sign off on a waiver that would allow the facilities to operate within the restricted distance, according to Yancey.

Three agencies implementing the program

The Department of Revenue, Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Commerce would all have a role in administering and overseeing portions of the program.

The Department of Revenue would be responsible for regulating dispensaries.

The Department of Health would regulate cards for qualified patients, seeds, educating medical professionals and maintaining several systems to keep a file of different aspects of the program.

Yancey said that the Department of Agriculture will be responsible for cultivation facilities, processing facilities, transportation entities and disposal entities.

This final piece could prove problematic; Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson remains opposed to having his state agency regulate any part of a medical marijuana program.

The Daily Journal obtained a letter that Gipson, a Republican, sent to House members continuing to reiterate his opposition to the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce regulating any portion of a potential medical marijuana program as long as the product is still classified a Schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government.

“Depending on the wording of the bill (a draft of which I have yet to be provided), not only would this proposal require me to violate my oath of office,” Gipson wrote. “But it would also fly in the face of the majority of voters who passed Initiative 65 with no regulatory role for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.”

Gipson has also previously said if the Legislature does pass a medical marijuana law that places any type of regulator authority under his purview, he’s prepared to challenge the provision in court.

Even though marijuana remains federally illegal, federal authorities have historically allowed states to legalize the product for recreational and medicinal use.

But Gipson’s opposition is apparently having little sway in the current negotiations.

When asked what bearing Gipson’s opposition was on the legislative process, state Rep. Shane Aguirre was blunt in his response: “None.”

Another component of the bill is lawmakers will be prohibited from having any sort of financial interest or stake in a medical marijuana company, according to Yancey.

Governor has the power to call special session

Reeves, a Republican, has the sole power to call legislators into a special session before their next regular session in January.

Reeves, on radio station SuperTalk Mississippi, said that he is still open to calling a special session.

“I think the voters went to the polls and voted for a medical marijuana program,” Reeves said. “They were very clear in their statements, and it was a fairly large majority that voted to pass it. I think as soon as a consensus is reached, a special session should strongly be considered.”

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus