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Lawmakers discuss future of medical marijuana in Mississippi

Mississippi lawmakers are discussing whether they should set a state medical marijuana program after a court blocked a recent voter-approved medical marijuana initiative.

Posted: Jun 4, 2021 9:29 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The leader of the organization that sponsored the voter-approved Mississippi medical marijuana initiative that was recently blocked in court says the program should be changed and improved by the state Legislature — but not by too much.

Medical marijuana advocates were outraged last month when the state Supreme Court ruled that Mississippi’s initiative process is outdated and therefore the initiative is void.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association executive director Ken Newburger said when Initiative 65 was written, he and others made some “short-sighted” missteps, such as tasking the state Department of Health with running the program on its own.

“There are some major gaps that I think a lot of you have pointed out in the past and a lot of people in the state have pointed out that need to be remedied," Newburger said Thursday during a Senate Public Health Committee meeting at the state Capitol.

However, Newburger said it's important that the basic tenets of what voters approved stay the same: Patients should be able to consume marijuana in any form — in a joint, edibles or otherwise; doctors should be responsible for certifying patients; small businesses should be able to operate and compete in the industry; and the program should be self-funded.

Mississippi residents voted in November to adopt Initiative 65, a state constitutional amendment that would have required the Health Department to create a program so marijuana could be available to people with “debilitating” medical conditions. The long list included cancer, epilepsy and sickle cell anemia.

As lawmakers on Thursday discussed what a state medical marijuana program might look like, major topics of conversation centered on whether Mississippi should allow people to smoke marijuana, how much marijuana people should be able to receive each month, how it will be taxed, where the revenue will go and how close treatment centers should be to schools and churches.

“The sooner we start talking about what options we have, the better,” said Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory, the Public Health Committee chairman. “What is in the best interest of the public? That's what we must determine.”

Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of Olive Branch said some lawmakers might balk at a program that allows people to smoke marijuana, as well as allowing people to receive up to 5 ounces (142 grams) a month, as proposed in Initiative 65.

“Five ounces a month seems like an awful lot of marijuana,” Blackwell said.

Republican Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula asked whether some of the tax revenue from the sale of marijuana should go into the state budget. Initiative 65 would have put the revenue into running the medical marijuana program.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has not said whether he will call legislators into special session this year to consider medical marijuana legislation. If he does not, the discussion would happen after the next regular session begins in January.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs told lawmakers Thursday there is still limited research on the benefits and impacts of using medical marijuana. He said he has concerns about young people developing substance use disorders and about the use of marijuana by pregnant women.

“There are potential harms," Dobbs said. “As we look into this, I think we need to think about it in the context of, ‘It’s not a panacea. There are downsides to everything.'”

He said the Health Department is also opposed to allowing medical marijuana to be smoked because of the risk of lung cancer and other detrimental health impacts.

Dobbs said it would realistically take the Health Department six to nine months at minimum to develop a medical marijuana program. Initiative 65 would have required a medical marijuana program to be in effect the middle of this year, and the department had been working on creating a program before the Supreme Court ruling.

About 1.3 million people voted in Mississippi in November, and more than 766,000 of them voted in favor of Initiative 65. That’s about 10,000 more residents than voted in November for then-President Donald Trump, who won handily in the state despite losing his reelection bid.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
Grenada3707108
Stone360364
Tishomingo359792
Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 819597

Reported Deaths: 15406
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1147901924
Mobile725791338
Madison52306697
Shelby37597350
Baldwin37245552
Tuscaloosa35101612
Montgomery34106740
Lee23526246
Calhoun22225488
Morgan20941378
Etowah19825500
Marshall18361304
Houston17384412
St. Clair16054339
Cullman15443293
Limestone15343199
Elmore15241286
Lauderdale14302295
Talladega13836283
DeKalb12649261
Walker11202370
Blount10192176
Autauga10043148
Jackson9871184
Coffee9210191
Dale8897185
Colbert8860201
Tallapoosa7084198
Escambia6772134
Covington6712183
Chilton6641162
Russell636659
Franklin5959105
Chambers5607142
Marion5005127
Dallas4973200
Pike4795106
Clarke475584
Geneva4571127
Winston4516103
Lawrence4321117
Bibb425186
Barbour357776
Marengo338090
Monroe331464
Randolph329764
Butler326396
Pickens316284
Henry312666
Hale311388
Cherokee302860
Fayette292880
Washington251551
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234663
Lamar224147
Conecuh186153
Coosa180240
Lowndes175164
Wilcox168839
Bullock151644
Perry138840
Sumter133038
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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