November 4th is a big day for patients living in Mississippi. The vote to approve medical marijuana with Initiative 65 won with 642,430 votes from residents. There were two ballot options presented regarding medical marijuana.
The citizen-led Initiative 65 received a 74% majority vote. That will pave the way for physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for a current list of twenty-two (22) debilitating conditions. The grassroots supported Initiative 65 will require a medical marijuana program to be established and running in Mississippi before August 2021.
For patients who have been waiting for medical cannabis as a treatment option, this is exciting news. The Mississippians for Compassionate Care succeeded in collecting enough signatures to add Initiative 65 to the November 3, 2020 election ballot. The Steering Committee working with the Mississippians for Compassionate Care included a long list of physicians and health organizations from the state.
The Mississippi state legislature had blocked more than 20 bills about the legalization of medical marijuana. Mississippi had established cannabinoid treatment research as early as 1964. The first cultivation of cannabis in Mississippi for medical research was in 1969. The battle was hard-won for patients and advocates. But it has finally arrived.
Mississippi Voters Had Two Options: One Had a Clear Path to Medical Cannabis for Patients
There were two state questions posed to voters in Mississippi in the November 2020 election. The citizen-led Initiative 65, and the Alternative 65A. The Mississippi House of Representatives favored the alternative proposed legislation. But Alternative 65A was viewed by many in the state to be a measure that would stall and further delay implementing an accessible medical marijuana program.
Alternative 65A had (in the opinion of supporters) too many unanswered questions. The Alternative 65A proposition did not outline or provide any determinations to move the dial forward for patient care.
The number of qualifying conditions? Unspecified.
Possession limits? Unspecified.
The legality of smokable medical cannabis? Only for terminally ill patients.
Taxes (including additional excise tax question) on sales of cannabis? Unspecified.
Cost of fee for application and registration for patients? Unspecified.
The designation of an Agency that would administrate the medical marijuana program. Unspecified.
Deadline for patient cards to be issued? None provided.
The goal of placing Alternative 65A on the ballot was to determine how many Mississippi residents supported the addition of a medical cannabis program. After deciding the majority interest, state regulators would then start a long process of developing a medical marijuana program in Mississippi.
According to results from the November 2, 2020 ballot, citizens in Mississippi had not only made up their mind about medical marijuana; they wanted it implemented asap. That would make Mississippi the 35th state in America to provide a medical cannabis program for patient care.
What Initiative 65 Means for Patients Living in Mississippi
The vote to approve Initiative 65 means that the Mississippi medical marijuana program is full steam ahead. Without further legislative delays. Voters approved the twenty (20) defined qualifying health conditions for patient care.
Initiative 65 allows registered patients to legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana at one time. Up to 2.5 ounces can be provided per patient in 14 days. This weight limit does not include medical cannabis in other products, including edibles, tinctures, or topical creams.
Winning the vote for Initiative 65 will keep costs down for patients who qualify. Sales of marijuana products will be taxed like other consumer goods, at a rate of 7%, without special excise taxes on medical cannabis.
The deadline for medical marijuana cards to be issued in Mississippi is August 15, 2021. The application fee for patients in Mississippi will be capped at fifty dollars ($50). During the first year of the new medical marijuana program, Mississippi’s state’s net cost is estimated to be $11,068,150.
Investment to establish the program is projected at $24,068,150. Mississippi estimates a net profit revenue of more than $13 million in the first twelve months. That figure includes approximately $10 million in sales tax revenues (7%). The program will be self-supported and funded. That means it will not cost taxpayers any money on an annual basis.
Legal Protections Guaranteed for Mississippi Patients and Physicians With Initiative 65
One of the Alternate 65A proposed legislation’s detriments was failing to provide legal protections for patients, practitioners, and business owners (MMTCs). Employers, property owners, and schools are protected from legal liability with Initiative 65.
There is also a “free market” provision for medical cannabis businesses who will be entering Mississippi. This will provide pro-small business incentives and measures to increase business investment in the new state medical cannabis industry. This will also help protect the Mississippi medical marijuana industry from corporate monopolies.
Qualifying Health Conditions for Mississippi Medical Marijuana
The majority vote on Initiative 65 in Mississippi will approve patients for medical cannabis for (22) health conditions. Patients will need to have one or more than one diagnosis to apply for a Mississippi medical marijuana card.
The twenty-two (22) qualifying health conditions include:
Epilepsy (or other seizures)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
AIDS/HIV (Positive Status)
Chronic or Debilitating Pain
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Agitation of Dementias
Autism (with aggressive or self-injurious behaviors)
Spinal Cord Disease (or severe spinal cord injury)
Severe Muscle Spasticity
Another medical condition of the same kind or class for which a physician believes the use of medical marijuana would provide benefits that outweigh potential health risks. This means that physicians in Mississippi can recommend patients even if they do not have one of the twenty-two (22) qualifying diagnoses.
Will a Physician Certification Be Required for Mississippi Medical Marijuana?
In states wheremedical marijuana is legal, patients need a letter from a physician to apply for an MMJ card. But Initiative 65 doesn’t say that a doctor certificate will be needed right now. Only a diagnosis of a qualifying health condition.
Patients will need to talk to their primary care provider (PCP). However, if the PCP doesn’t support cannabis as a treatment option, another physician may be consulted.
Telemedicine will not (as of the time of writing) be permitted. That means in-person visits with a physician will be required. Other types of providers (under the current proposed legislation) will not authorize patients for medical cannabis. This includes nurse practitioners.
The Mississippi Department of Health will provide final rules and regulations by July 1, 2021. That may include the expansion of limitations for medical marijuana treatment centers. In the approved Initiative 65, MMTC’s cannot be located within 500 feet of a school, church, or child-care establishment.
Before July 1, 2021, the laws will be updated. It will also address caregiver criteria for minors reliant on care by a legal guardian or parent. That includes disabled or homebound patients, who can now access Mississippi medical marijuana.