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Mississippi Drags Its Feet on Medical Program

Mississippi Drags Its Feet on Medical Program: As of May 2021, medical cannabis–marijuana available for medicinal purposes–is legal in 26 states and the District of Columbia. While some states adopted the idea of medical cannabis early on, others needed a little more of a push. 

California led the charge when Prop 215 was approved in 1996; it has since seen non-profit coops pop up and the proliferation of retail dispensaries offering medical cannabis. In 2021 alone, every cannabis-related ballot measure has been passed by voters. This is an especially surprising amount of action for some traditionally more conservative states like Montana, South Dakota and Mississippi. 

However, getting the necessary votes in support of medical marijuana and implementing a program are two different things–and Mississippi is dragging its feet on getting a medical cannabis program off the ground once and for all. Initiative 65–which began with overwhelming voter support in 2020–seems to be slower to move forward than originally anticipated.

The Will of The Voters

After overwhelming support at the ballots in November with Initiative 65, Mississippi lawmakers got to work drafting a bill over the summer. It was widely accepted that passing a medical marijuana program was “the will of the voters” and there was bipartisan momentum in that vein. Gov. Tate Reeves said he’d host a special session with lawmakers to pass the bill–once it had garnered general approval. However, things took an unexpected turn. Come September, the draft was ready and legislative leaders gave the go-ahead, claiming that consensus had been reached. That’s when the process ground to a halt.

Mississippi Feet-Dragging on Details

First, Gov. Reeves felt the number of cannabis patients would receive was too high (4oz, even while voters had approved 5oz). Other problems were brought up by religious, medical and law enforcement lobbies. With each opposition, the bill continued to stagnate. The special session that was promised faded away. As time went on, other bills took precedence and space away from the medical marijuana program in the legislative session.

The foot-dragging and delays continued within the state. Within Senate leadership, pet peeves and issues are being brought forth; even those who generally supported the program were calling for additions and subtractions to the measure. In the House, the response was disappointing. What started out as bi-partisan agreement has devolved into a clear message: a medical marijuana program is no longer a priority and even if it comes into shape, it will be far more conservative than was originally intended. Gov. Reeves even threatened to veto the bill if it went forward.


What The People Want

The winds began blowing against the state; protests were cropping up, including in Reeves’ front yard. Opposition groups became increasingly frustrated by the state’s stall tactics. In a recent interview, ​​Shea Dobson, executive director of Citizens Alliance of Mississippi (CAM), summed it up: “The people voted for free-market,” Dobson said. “They didn’t vote for a bunch of red tape and a program that doesn’t work. They voted for an actual free-market medical marijuana program, so that’s what we’ve been pushing for.”

As Mississippi politicians continued to debate the small print of the bill–or ask for it to be re-drafted altogether–the chronically ill in the state suffered, waiting for their chance to have access to the medical cannabis that so many other Americans in other states have the freedom to use. 

Movement At Last

On January 13th, 2022, the Mississippi Senate finally passed a bill that would create a medical marijuana program. The bill passed with overwhelming support, to the tune of 5 against and 47 for the measure. After 14 months of stalling, the bill heads to the House to be debated and possibly amended.

Despite a strong start with overwhelming voter backing in 2020, the proposed medical marijuana program fizzled for over a year in Mississippi. The state, particularly the governor, dragged their feet in putting together the planned special session. However, the people have spoken: Mississippians are ready for a free-market medical cannabis program. Finally, thanks to some recent movement in getting the bill through the Senate, there is hope that the long-awaited program will come to fruition.

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