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2021 Sees Republican Lawmakers Take Lead On Marijuana Legalization In More U.S. States

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Marijuana legalization has long been seen as a blue state issue, with Democratic lawmakers far more favorable toward the policy change than Republicans even as GOP voters have warmed to cannabis reform in recent years. But in legislatures across the country this year, there are signs that’s finally starting to change.

In at least 10 states, Republican lawmakers have taken lead roles in crafting and sponsoring legislation to legalize cannabis in 2021 legislative sessions. In some, such as North Dakota, GOP-led bills are on pace to potentially become law, while in other states like New Mexico, Republicans have submitted legalization proposals alongside their Democratic colleagues, coming to the table to craft bipartisan compromises.

In yet other states, including New Hampshire and Missouri, Republicans have introduced marijuana legislation but have so far struggled to gain momentum for their bills. Even there, the bills’ conservative lawmakers have staked an ideological claim to legalization, arguing the change would better respect individual liberties and end wasteful spending on a failed government drug war.

“This initiative will increase personal freedom, allow law enforcement to focus on violent crime instead of nonviolent marijuana users, and provide revenue for infrastructure, broadband, and drug treatment,” Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Missouri Republican, said after prefiling a legalization bill for this session.

It’s a rare example in today’s divided age of lawmakers finding common policy ground across party lines. While some of the Republicans teaming up with Democrats to legalize cannabis are moderates, others remain sharply partisan on other issues. Florida Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, for example, a sponsor of bipartisan legislation to legalize cannabis for adults in that state and allow past convictions to be expunged, has previously tweeted QAnon conspiracy theories and criticized Black Lives Matter protestors as “disgusting, lawless thugs.”

The cross-country wave of Republican lawmakers embracing legalization comes after voters in several GOP-leaning states, such as Montana and South Dakota approved cannabis reform measures on their November ballots, which might be influencing more politicians across party lines to embrace the issue.

Here’s a list of states where Republican lawmakers have taken lead roles in introducing legislation to legalize marijuana in 2021.

Florida

Among a flurry of legalization proposals introduced in Florida this session is a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) to allow the state’s medical marijuana treatment centers to sell cannabis products to adults 21 and older. The legislation (SB 710 / HB 343) would allow possession up to up to 2,000 milligrams of THC and up to 2.5 ounces of smokable cannabis so long as they were purchased from a licensed retailer. Registered medical marijuana patients and caretakers would be exempt from sales tax on cannabis products.

Homegrow would initially be prohibited under the proposal, although the bills would direct the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs to “conduct a study on the potential harms and benefits of allowing the cultivation of marijuana by members of the public for private use, including the use of a cooperative model.” That report would be due to lawmakers by January 2022. People with past convictions for certain low-level cannabis crimes could petition a court to expunge the charges from their criminal history.

The plan would also eliminate the state’s vertical integration requirement, allowing companies to apply for a single license—such as cultivation or retail—or multiple licenses.

Brandes is the lone sponsor of the Senate bill so far. On the House side, the legislation’s lead sponsor and three of the four co-introducers are Democrats, while a fourth co-introducer is Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini.

Georgia

House Resolution 281, a simple two-page bill from Rep. David Clark (R), would put the question of marijuana legalization to voters. Details of the new system would be largely left up to lawmakers to settle later, although the proposed constitutional amendment would dedicate all fees and taxes from the legal cannabis industry to “substance abuse recovery and prevention, mental illness treatment, and for use by law enforcement agencies in combating and responding to cases of illegal drug use and addictions.”

The amendment would also charge lawmakers with establishing a process to expunge or otherwise vacate past arrests and convictions for cannabis offenses “which would not have been a crime” after legalization takes effect.

Missouri

Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan, chairman of the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, said earlier this year that he wants “to regulate marijuana as closely as possible to the regulations we have on alcohol, tobacco and other products.” His proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, House Joint Resolution 30, would would require no special licensing for businesses “beyond that which is applicable for the cultivating, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, packaging, distributing, transferring, displaying, or possession of any nontoxic food or food product,” according to language of the joint resolution. Home cultivation for personal or medical use would also be allowed, with no specified plant limits or other restrictions.

The proposal reflects a popular libertarian view that the government should not interfere with how people use the cannabis plant. It echoes a 2015 proposal from a Texas Republican who said marijuana be regulated under “whatever laws apply to tomatoes.”

So far, however, the proposal hasn’t found traction in Missouri. Introduced at the beginning of the legislative session, Dogan’s bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 800 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

New Hampshire

Two legalization bills in New Hampshire received GOP support this session but have not advanced beyond committee. One measure is HB 629, sponsored by Rep. Carol McGuire (R) along with four other Republicans and one Democrat. It would legalize possession and personal cultivation of marijuana but, unlike most other legal states, would not establish a commercial market. Adults would be able to grow up to six cannabis plants and possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of hashish.

Another bill, HB 237, sponsored by seven Democrats and Republican Rep. John Reagan, would create a system of licensed and taxed cannabis production and sales.

New Mexico

In New Mexico, where House and Senate lawmakers are scrambling to harmonize four separate legalization proposals, a bill by GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle, SB 288, is a favorite among some Republican lawmakers and has earned Pirtle a seat at the table as sponsors of all four bills work to hammer out a deal on how the proposal will proceed ahead of the end of the session on March 20.

Pirtle said earlier this month that he introduced the measure, which has a lower tax rate than Democrats’ proposals and retains more revenue and control for municipalities, “because I felt something as important as legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis really needed to have a bipartisan approach.”

Another Republican, Sen. Craig Brand, said the bill is “very close” to what he’d like to see in marijuana legislation.

Pirtle’s measure cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday following the House’s passage of one of the other bills last month. “Hopefully we can come up with something that works for everybody,” Pirtle told the Santa Fe New Mexican last week. “We’re working on it.”

North Dakota

North Dakota’s House of Representatives has already passed Republican-led legislation to legalize marijuana, approving. HB 1420 late last month on a 73–21 vote. The measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase one ounce of cannabis but would prohibit home cultivation, now awaits consideration by the Senate Human Services Committee.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Jason Dockter (R), has bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate is sponsored by Sen. Scott Meyer (R). Even if the legislature were to pass the measure, however, it’s unclear whether Gov. Doug Burghum (R) would sign or veto it.

One goal of Republicans in North Dakota is to set their own rules ahead of a possible legalization push at the ballot box. Rep. Matthew Ruby (R) said last month that the legislation’s intent is “to get ahead of the constitutional measure that is already beginning the signature collection,” adding that home cultivation in that proposal would complicate enforcement efforts.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Republican Rep. Scott Fetgatter is proposing a ballot question to let voters decide whether to legalize marijuana for adults. HB 1961, introduced in early February, would put a referendum to voters on whether to allow the state’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell products to adults 21 and older. Consumers could possess up to an ounce of cannabis and gift that amount to other adults without remuneration.

The measure would impose a 15 percent excise tax on retail marijuana as well as a state and local sales taxes. Revenue would go to the state’s general fund.

The measure faces an uphill battle in the legislature, but Fetgatter is optimistic. “It at least starts a conversation,” he told local NBC affiliate KJRH.

Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania Republican is one of two leading proponents of a forthcoming bill to legalize marijuana, which advocates hope will make the proposal more appealing to the state’s GOP-controlled legislature. Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) announced last month plans to introduce legislation that would allow adults to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana purchased from licensed stories. Homegrow would be allowed only for medical marijuana patients.

The bill marks the first time a Republican lawmaker in the state has sponsored an adult-use legalization bill. Laughlin said during a press conference that while he’s not necessarily in favor of cannabis use, he thinks a regulated market is “the most responsible approach.”

“It’s clear to me that public attitudes towards marijuana have changed dramatically in the past decade,” he said, “maybe more than any other issue in recent memory.”

West Virginia

Legislation introduced last week by West Virginia Republican Dels. Brandon Steele and Doug Smith would legalize, tax and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older. Home cultivation of up to three cannabis plants for personal use would be permitted so long as the marijuana is grown inconspicuously, not sold and not brought across state lines. Unusually under the bill, HB 2919, retail sales would take place only through the West Virginia Cannabis Commission. The commission would also set a wholesale price at which the state would buy cannabis from licensed growers, as well as the base tax rate for the legal system

House Majority Whip Paul Espinoza (R) recently polled GOP colleagues on marijuana legalization as one of a number of possible ways the state could raise revenue to bridge a $2.1 billion loss in revenue expected under a plan to eliminate the state’s personal income tax. He noted that some of the issues on the list “are nonstarters,” but did not share the results of the internal poll.

Gov. Jim Justice (R), meanwhile, said last week that he would support taxing “the absolute crap” out of legal cannabis if the proposal passes the legislature. “If in fact the entire nation is going to move that way, if our legislature from the standpoint of the Republicans in the House were to bring me that, and it would be tied to using those extra dollars [to] get rid of additional personal income tax, I would support it,” Justice said. Days earlier he said legalization could potentially curb opioid-related overdose epidemics in West Virginia.

Wyoming

A Republican-led coalition in Wyoming last week introduced HB 209, a bill that would allow adults 21 and older in the state to purchase marijuana from licensed stores as well as grow cannabis at home for personal use. The lead sponsor on the House side is Judiciary Committee chairman Jared Olsen (R), and seven of the 11 House cosponsors are Republicans—including the House speaker. On the Senate side, the lead sponsor is Sen. Cale Case (R).

If passed, adults could grow up to 12 flowering plants and possess up to a pound of marijuana in their homes, provided that any amount over 2.5 ounces is stored in a locked or otherwise secure area.

The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee and is expected to get a hearing this week.

Contextualizing GOP Support For Legal Marijuana

Beyond the Republican lawmakers who’ve sponsored bills to fully legalize marijuana, even more have embraced relatively modest measures to decriminalize possession or allow medical cannabis.

Others are championing even more far-reaching measures to reform laws around psychedelics and other drugs. Iowa Rep. Jeff Shipley (R), for example, filed legislation this session to decriminalize psilocybin and to allow seriously ill people to access psychedelics.

But despite the growing number of individual GOP officials who are beginning to lead reform efforts, Democrats as a whole are still much more likely to support legalization than their Republican counterparts.

When Virginia lawmakers sent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) a cannabis legalization bill last month, not a single GOP member of the legislature was on board. And while West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) has reluctantly said he would sign marijuana legislation if sent to his desk, nearly a dozen Democratic governors across the country this year have used their State of State addresses or budget proposals to proactively push cannabis reforms.

The partisan divide on legalization remains especially evident in Congress, where top Democratic lawmakers have signaled the policy change is a priority this year. When the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition last year, by contrast, only five Republicans voted in support.

Mexican Committees Approve Revised Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Floor Vote Expected Wednesday

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Amazon Endorses GOP-Led Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana

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Amazon, the second largest private employer in the U.S., is backing a Republican-led bill to federally legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.

The company’s public policy division said on Tuesday that it is “pleased to endorse” the legislation from Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who filed the States Reform Act in November as a middle-ground alternative to more scaled back GOP proposals and wide-ranging legalization bills that are being championed by Democrats.

“Like so many in this country, we believe it’s time to reform the nation’s cannabis policy and Amazon is committed to helping lead the effort,” the company, which previously expressed support for a separate, Democratic-led legalization bill, said.

Amazon has worked to adapt to changing marijuana policies internally as it’s backed congressional reform, enacting an employment policy change last year to end drug testing for cannabis for most workers, for example.

Months after making that change—and following the introduction of the States Reform Act—Mace met with Amazon and received the company’s endorsement, Forbes reported.

“They don’t want to sell it,” the freshman congresswoman said, adding that Amazon is primarily interested in backing the reform for hiring purposes instead of as a way to eventually sell cannabis. “It opens up the hiring pool by about 10 percent.”

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said the bill “offers comprehensive reform that speaks to the emergence of a bipartisan consensus to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.”

Amazon’s drug testing decision was widely celebrated by reform advocates and industry stakeholders. Initially, the company only talked about ending the policy going forward. But it later disclosed that the policy change would also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.

The reason for the move away from marijuana testing was multifaceted, Amazon said at the time. The growing state-level legalization movement has made it “difficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program,” data shows that drug testing “disproportionately impacts people of color and acts as a barrier to employment” and ending the requirement will widen the company’s applicant pool.

The GOP congresswoman’s bill already has the support of the influential, Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

The measure would end federal cannabis prohibition while taking specific steps to ensure that businesses in existing state markets can continue to operate unencumbered by changing federal rules.

Mace’s legislation has been characterized as an attempt to bridge a partisan divide on federal cannabis policy. It does that by incorporating certain equity provisions such as expungements for people with non-violent cannabis convictions and imposing an excise tax, revenue from which would support community reinvestment, law enforcement and Small Business Administration (SBA) activities.

Marijuana Moment first reported on an earlier draft version of the bill in November, and it quickly became apparent that industry stakeholders see an opportunity in the Republican-led effort.

The reason for that response largely comes down to the fact that there’s skepticism that Democratic-led legalization bills—including the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that Amazon has also endorsed—will be able to pass without GOP buy-in. While Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, in addition to controlling the White House, the margins for passage are slim.

The MORE Act did clear the House Judiciary Committee in September, and a previous version passed the full House during the last Congress. Senate leadership is preparing to file a separate legalization proposal after unveiling a draft version in July.

Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Until 2023, But Senate Proposal Still Pending

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Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Until 2023, But Senate Proposal Still Pending

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A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel on Monday, only to be pushed off until 2023. But there’s still a separate but similar reform proposal that’s pending in the Senate.

Advocates were hopeful that a House Courts of Justice subcommittee would advance the reform, especially after an amendment from the sponsor was adopted to more narrowly apply decriminalization to medical practitioners and people using psychedelics in treatment with a practitioner.

But following some discussion of Del. Dawn Adams’s (D) bill, members approved a motion to carry it over to next year to give the legislature more time to refine it and build support. It was a disappointment for activists, and there was particular surprise that the delay motion was made by House Minority Leader Charniele Herring (D)‎, who is well known for championing marijuana legalization in the state.

Adams said in her opening remarks before the subcommittee that she has “spent considerable time hearing from researchers, meeting with both local and nationwide community advocates, speaking with veterans and personally reading dozens of publications and studies about the benefits of plant medicine.”

“What I’ve been able to learn is that there is strong evidence to support plant medicines—once thought dangerous—that really are effective and safe treatments,” she said.

There seemed to be some confusion among certain members about what the legislation would actually do.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

One member asked whether doctors would be able to prescribe psychedelics and whether the state would “see peyote stores and psilocybin stores basically popping up.”

The bill as amended wouldn’t legalize psychedelics for medical or recreational use. It would simply make it so practitioners and people participating in psychedelics treatment would face a $100 fine for possessing peyote, ibogaine, psilocybin or psilocyn. Currently, such possession is considered a Class 5 felony.

Any dollars collected from psychedelics possession violations would go to the state’s Drug Offender Assessment and Treatment Fund, which supports substance misuse treatment programs and drug courts.

But following testimony from advocates and researchers, Herring said that “there’s a lot of issues have been raised” and that she’d like to see a “prescription element” built into the legislation. Of course, because the psychedelics are federally controlled substances, doctors are precluded from prescribing them, but they could theoretically make recommendations, as is done in medical cannabis states.

In any case, the motion carried and that bill has now been set aside until next year. Now advocates are eager to see what happens with a separate, more limited reform measure that was considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

At that meeting, there was bipartisan support—including from the GOP minority leader—but also talk about making the decriminalization proposal more medically focused. The sponsor, Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), agreed to go back and make revisions so that the panel could reconsider it at a future meeting. The expectation was that it would be taken back up this week, but it’s not currently listed on the panel’s agenda for Wednesday.

The bill is scaled back compared to the House version because, as drafted, it would only decriminalize psilocybin and psilocyn by adults 21 and older. It’s unclear what kind of amendments the sponsor might offer when the committee takes up the legislation again.

At a recent virtual event organized by the reform group Decriminalize Nature Virginia, the sponsors of both bills participated as hosts, sharing their perspectives about the growing body of research indicating that psychedelics could be powerful tools to combat conditions like treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If the legislature does approve the legislation, it could face resistance from the state’s incoming Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has expressed concerns about implementing a commercial marijuana market in line with what the Democratic legislature and outgoing governor approved last year.

These psychedelics reform proposals are some of the latest to be introduced in state legislatures this session as the decriminalization movement spreads.

For example, two Republican Oklahoma lawmakers recently filed bills meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, and one of the measures would further decriminalize low-level possession of the psychedelic.

A GOP Utah lawmaker also introduced a bill last week that would set up a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.

In Kansas, A lawmaker also recently filed a bill to legalize the low-level possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms.

A Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill this month to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD  through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.

California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.

In Michigan, a pair of state senators introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of various plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.

Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation this month that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.

In Vermont, a broad coalition of lawmakers representing nearly a third of the House introduced a bill to decriminalize drug possession.

New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.

Last year, the governor of Connecticut signed legislation that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.

Oklahoma Republicans File Bills To Decriminalize Psilocybin And Encourage Research On Medical Benefits

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Mississippi Lawmakers Reach Deal To Send Medical Marijuana Bill To Governor This Week

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Mississippi House and Senate lawmakers have reached an agreement to send a bill to legalize medical marijuana to the governor’s desk this week. Following Senate action on Tuesday, the bill will now go to a bicameral conference committee to finalize details of the legislation, with votes in both chambers for final passage expected on Wednesday.

Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R) and Rep. Lee Yancey (R) discussed the agreement at a press conference on Tuesday. There was an opportunity for a concurrence vote in the Senate—where the bill originated and advanced to the House this month and was then amended—but following pushback from the Mississippi Municipal League (MML) over a House change related to zoning rules for cannabis businesses, the Senate voted against concurrence and will instead move the measure to conference.

This comes more than 14 months after voters in Mississippi passed an initiative to legalize medical cannabis—a law the state Supreme Court later overturned. And the bill that’s being tweaked again is the result of months of negotiations and last-minute changes to a nearly 450-page bill.

“This has been a long journey, and it’s nice to be in a place where everyone is in agreement,” Yancey said on Tuesday. “It looks like we will finally be able to provide relief to those people with debilitating illnesses who so badly need it. Medical cannabis will now be an option for them as soon as we get the conference report signed and sent to the governor.”

While the overall bill will remain largely the same as an earlier version passed by the Senate this month, the recent House amendments reduced the overall monthly amount of cannabis products available to patients, removed the Department of Agriculture and Commerce from oversight of the industry and expanded zoning allowances for cannabis cultivators and processors.

Only the zoning allowances provision will change. Instead of allowing cultivators and processors to operate in commercial zoning areas, as would have been allowed under the bill as amended by the House, they would only be permitted in industrial or agriculture zoned areas, satisfying MML.

Assuming that conference goes as planned, the legislature will then formally transmit the bill to Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who then has five days, excluding Sundays, either to sign it into law or return it with objections. Both the Senate and House, however, have passed the legislation with veto-proof majorities. If the governor doesn’t take any action by the deadline, the bill will become law without his signature.

Reeves has been wary of legalization in recent months, at one point threatening to veto a draft bill if it made it to his desk. Since then, proponents in the legislature have worked to balance the voter-approved initiative’s more permissive proposals against the governor’s calls for tighter restrictions.

The governor said last week that the measure has become “better” with every revision and rightly predicted further amendments by the House.

Provided the bill becomes law, dispensaries would be licensed about six months later, meaning Mississippi’s medical cannabis program could be up and running, at least in limited form, by the end of the year.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The bill, SB 2095, draws heavily from provisions negotiated by lawmakers in the second half of last year, as legislative leaders prepared a bill for an anticipated special session last summer that the governor never called. Supporters say the lengthy proposal represents a middle ground between the more permissive plan approved by voters and the narrower approach preferred by Reeves and some lawmakers.

The legislation as amended by the House would allow patients with about two dozen qualifying medical conditions to purchase the equivalent of 3.5 grams of marijuana (or 1 gram of cannabis concentrate) per day, with a maximum monthly limit of 3 ounces. Voters approved a monthly limit of 5 ounces in 2020, and the bill as passed by the Senate last week would have allowed 3.5 ounces, but that was further scaled back by the House earlier this week.

Qualifying conditions under the bill include cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, Alzheimer’s, sickle-cell anemia, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, neuropathy, spinal cord disease or severe injury as well as chronic medical conditions or treatments that produce severe nausea, cachexia or wasting, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms or chronic pain.

Further conditions could be added later by regulators via petition. State-issued patient registration cards would cost $25, though some people could qualify for a lower price.

Registered patients would be subject to purchase limits that would restrict them to no more than one “medical cannabis equivalency unit” per day, which the bill defines as 3.5 grams of cannabis flower, one gram of concentrate or up to 100 milligrams of THC in infused products. While those limits are significantly lower than in most states where cannabis is legal for medical patients, Reeves said last year the program should allow only half those amounts.

Patients or caretakers would be forbidden from growing their own cannabis under the proposal. Products from state-licensed companies, meanwhile, would be limited to 30 percent THC for cannabis flower and 60 percent for concentrates.

There would be no limit on the number of licensed businesses under the plan.

Medical marijuana would be taxed at a wholesale rate of 5 percent, and purchases would also be subject to state sales tax.

While smoking and vaping cannabis is allowed for patients, both would be illegal in public and in motor vehicles. It would still be a crime for patients to drive under the influence.

The legislation would task the Mississippi Department of Health to oversee the new industry and establish a nine-member advisory committee to make recommendations on issues such as patient access and industry safety.

Previous versions of the bill also tasked the state Commission of Agriculture and Commerce with regulatory duties, but the House removed the agency through an amendment. Commissioner Andy Gipson, who for months had pushed back against the plan, thanked House Speaker Philip Gunn and other lawmakers for making the change in a statement issued last week.

“The best place for a truly medical program is under the Department of Health, which reflects the will of the voters in Initiative 65,” Gipson said, according to SuperTalk Mississippi. “This change is good policy for Mississippi agriculture and allows us to focus on our core mission. It is also good policy for the taxpayers of Mississippi because it achieves greater efficiency in the use of funds by reducing the number of agencies involved in the program.”

Licensing of cannabis businesses other than dispensaries—including cultivators, processors, transporters, disposal entities, testing labs and research facilities—would begin 120 days after the bill’s passage, with the first licenses issued about a month after that. The dispensary licensing process would kick off 150 days after passage, with the first licenses coming a month later.

Cannabis businesses may have to get seek local approval to operate, and municipalities can adopt zoning and land use restrictions. In general, local governments could not ban medical cannabis businesses outright or “make their operation impracticable,” the bill says, but a separate provision would allow local governments to opt out of the program altogether within 90 days of the bill’s passage. In such cases, citizens could then petition to put the question to a vote.

Mississippi voters decisively approved a broad legalization initiative in November 2020. The state Supreme Court overturned the measure on procedural grounds last May—simultaneously doing away with the state’s entire initiative process.

For much of last year, it appeared lawmakers were set to pass a medical marijuana bill during a special legislative session, but the governor ultimately decided against calling the special session after reaching an impasse with lawmakers. Those who supported legalization said at the time that responsibility for the failure rested with Reeves.

Later that month, Reeves dodged questions from patient advocates about why he’d failed to call the special session. Then in late December, he said on social media that he had “repeatedly told the members of the Legislature that I am willing to sign a bill that is truly medical marijuana,” but stressed that there should be “reasonable restrictions.”

Last week, before the House floor vote, Yancey, who chairs the House Drug Policy Committee and who’s been working on the legislation with Blackwell, said that he never imagined he’d be in the position to legalize cannabis. But he said he worked to ensure the bill was focused on providing medicine to patients, not paving a route to a recreational program as critics have claimed.

“When I got involved in this bill, I said, ‘How can we build a wall around this program so the people who get it are the people who need it the most, and only the people who need it the most?” Yancey said. “This is not for everybody out on the street. This is not for a bunch of kids. This is for hurting people with debilitating conditions.”

A poll released in June found that a majority of Mississippi voters support legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, with 63 percent saying they want the legislature to pass a bill that mirrors the ballot measure that was nullified by the Supreme Court.

New York Doctors Can Now Recommend Medical Marijuana To Patients For Any Condition They See Fit

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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