If you weren’t convinced that bipartisan, national support of legal cannabis has arrived, here are six words to change your mind: medical marijuana is legal in Mississippi. Along with four other states, Mississippi voters elected cannabis on the 2020 ballot. Mississippi’s political leadership is overwhelmingly red: the Magnolia state’s governor, two U.S senators, and three out of four U.S. representatives are republican. More than 57% of Mississippi constituents voted for the incumbent President Trump, a republican. Even so, medical marijuana was legalized by a landslide. The results of the 2020 general election show that cannabis regulation is becoming the new normal even in the most conservative states. Despite a potentially confusing two-step ballot measure, over 73% of voters approved of Initiative No. 65, amending Mississippi’s constitution to allow patients with certain debilitating health conditions to access cannabis for medicinal use. The rules for the medical marijuana program must be developed by the Mississippi State Department of Health and implemented no later than July 1, 2021. The Department must begin issuing medical marijuana cards no later than August 15, 2021.
Weed in Mississippi: From Prohibition to Legalization
Recreational cannabis remains illegal in Mississippi. However, cannabis possession was decriminalized in 1978. Conviction for the possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis can result in a $250 fee without an associated criminal penalty. However, possession of more than 30 grams is classified as a felony punishable by 1 – 10 years of incarceration and fees that range from $1,000 to $1,000,000, each dependent on the quantity of cannabis. As in all states, Black people are disproportionately targeted by cannabis prohibition. However, Mississippi’s early adoption of cannabis decriminalization may explain why it has a slightly lower than average racial disparity rate. Nationwide, Black people are 3.6 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession. In Mississippi, that rate is 2.7 times as likely. Mississippi’s medical marijuana laws do not include any social equity provisions to address this racial disparity. Medical marijuana was legalized on the 2020 ballot, but it faced fierce opposition. One of the most worrisome obstacles was the introduction of another, more prohibitive legalization measure, Initiative 65A. Initiative 65A would have required cannabis medicine to be administered by physicians, nurses, and pharmacists instead of allowing patients to administer their medicine themselves or with the help of a caregiver. Other limits include drastically reducing consumption methods and restricting cannabis treatment to patients with terminal illnesses. Because of the competing constitutional amendment initiatives, voters were faced with two questions on the 2020 ballot:
- Should Mississippi Allow Medical Marijuana? Voters had to choose between “Either 65 or 65A” or “Against Both 65 and 65A.” Over 68% of voters chose the former.
- Should Mississippi Establish a Medical Marijuana Program? Voters had to select “For Initiative No. 65” or “For Alternative No. 65A.” More than 73% of voters chose Initiative No. 65.
How to Qualify for Mississippi’s Medical Marijuana Program
If you have one of the following medical conditions, you may be eligible to participate in Mississippi’s medical marijuana program:
- Epilepsy or other seizure disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s Disease
- Muscular dystrophy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
- Chronic or debilitating pain
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Agitation of dementias
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Sickle-cell anemia
- Autism with aggressive or self-injurious behaviors
- Pain refractory to appropriate opioid management
- Spinal cord disease or severe injury
- Intractable nausea
- Severe muscle spasticity
- Any other similar medical condition a physician believes medical marijuana is suitable to treat
In order to qualify for the medical marijuana program, you must receive or confirm a diagnosis from a Mississippi-licensed Doctor of Medicine or of Osteopathic Medicine during an in-person appointment. In addition to confirming the diagnosis, your doctor must complete a physician certification form indicating that medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment for your medical condition. Pediatric patients diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition are also eligible to apply to the medical marijuana program, but they can only do so with the consent of their legal guardians. Both adult and pediatric patients may select at least one caregiver to help them obtain and use their cannabis medicine. Caregivers must be at least 21 years old and comply with medical marijuana program regulations. The ballot initiative allows regulators to impose a registration card fee up to $50. Medical marijuana cards must be renewed annually. In order to renew, you will have to obtain a new physician certification.
Mississippi’s Medical Marijuana Rules
Medical marijuana was legalized through a constitutional amendment approved by voters on the 2020 general election ballot. However, the rules are still in development and medical marijuana probably won’t be available until late next year. Here’s what we know about Mississippi’s medical marijuana rules as of December 2020:
Patients who are registered with the program can possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis at a time and cannot purchase more than 2.5 ounces of cannabis from a licensed medical marijuana treatment center (the only legal establishment to buy cannabis) within a 2-week period.
Cannabis cannot be smoked in a public place. Anyone who violates this rule will be subject to paying a fine of up to $100. It is illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of cannabis. Even if a patient has a medical marijuana card, the consumption of cannabis is prohibited in the following locations:
- Any public or private correctional institution or detention facility
- Any place of education
- Any place of employment
Employers may hold their employees to anti-cannabis work policies, including requiring them to take drug tests. Property owners retain the right to prohibit smoking on their properties even if their renters have medical marijuana cards.
Patients are not authorized to grow their own cannabis. The only legal way to obtain medical marijuana in Mississippi is to purchase it from a licensed medical marijuana treatment center. Medical marijuana should be available by autumn 2021.