The long, drawn out back-and-forth surrounding a medical cannabis bill in Mississippi reached a potentially major breakthrough last week, with members of the state House overwhelmingly passing the legislation.
The bill passed out of the state House by a vote of 104-14, the Associated Press reported. Members of the state Senate passed the bill the previous week with a vote of 46-5, “but the House made some changes,” according to the Associated Press, and now it is down to senators to either accept those changes or bring the legislation to the negotiating table.
“This bill has been vetted probably more than any bill in my history for sure,” said Republican state House Representative Lee Yancey, as quoted by the Mississippi Clarion Ledger.
The Clarion Ledger said that Yancey, the chair of the state House Drug Policy Committee, worked closely with GOP state Senator Kevin Blackwell on the legislation throughout the summer months and into the fall.
Earlier this month, Blackwell filed a 445-page bill that was then referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee for review by Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann.
According to the Clarion Ledger, Yancey “made three changes” to the bill passed last Wednesday by the state House, with the most notable dealing with the amount of cannabis a patient can procure, a major area of disagreement between lawmakers and Mississippi’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves.
Blackwell’s bill permitted patients to purchase up to 3.5 grams of cannabis per day, but Yancey’s version allows for only three ounces to be purchased at a time.
According to the Clarion Ledger, a patient “can still purchase 3.5 grams of marijuana at a time, but only six times a week.”
It is unclear if that will be enough to placate Reeves, who has said that he would prefer the limit to be lowered to 2.7 grams.
The Clarion Ledger said that Yancey considers the number “just a starting point, and he expects the legislature to increase the amount of marijuana a person can purchase each month in future years.”
“This is an effort to start small and grow rather than start big and reduce,” Yancey said.
In another notable change, the House-passed bill “puts the entirety of the program under the Mississippi State Department of Health,” according to the Clarion Ledger, whereas the Senate version tasked the Department of Agriculture and Commerce to oversee “the licensing, inspection and oversight of cannabis cultivation facilities, processing facilities, transportation and cannabis disposal entities in the state.”
Nearly 70 percent of Mississippi voters passed a proposal at the ballot in 2020 to legalize medical cannabis for patients in the state suffering from a host of conditions, including cancer, epilepsy or other seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
But the law’s path to enactment has been troubled. Last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the ballot initiative, citing a technicality that rendered it unconstitutional.
In the wake of that ruling, state lawmakers sought to replace the nullified initiative with a new medical marijuana law, but that, too, has been hamstrung by delays.
Lawmakers produced a draft of a bill in September, but Reeves had concerns with the proposal and never called a special session to debate and pass the legislation.
“I am confident we will have a special session of the Legislature if we get the specifics of a couple of items that are left outstanding,” Reeves said at a press conference in October. “Again, we have made great progress working with our legislative leaders.”
Now, with the regular session underway, the bill returns to the Senate––but the ball remains very much in Reeves’ court.