On February 2, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act into law, making the Magnolia state the thirty-seventh in the U.S. to legalize medical cannabis. The Act comes on the heels of a medical cannabis ballot measure—Initiative 65—that passed in November of 2020 with almost 70% of voters in favor of a medical cannabis program. The Mississippi Supreme Court struck down Initiative 65 on May 14, 2021, based on theories of faulty election laws. This decision by the court opened the door for lawmakers to provide a more comprehensive medical cannabis law. The Act passed through the Mississippi legislature with relative ease and provides a solid framework for the medical cannabis industry to begin operating in Mississippi.
The Act permits individuals with “qualifying conditions” to use medical cannabis as a treatment option when prescribed by a properly licensed physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or optometrist pursuant to an in-person evaluation and bona fide patient-prescriber relationship. In contrast to its southern neighbors that have taken more conservative approaches in regulating legal cannabis, the Act contains a relatively expansive list of qualifying conditions that make a patient eligible for a medical cannabis prescription, including intractable seizures, cancer, Crohn’s disease, ALS, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS/HIV, muscle-spasm disorders, wasting syndrome, and others. Under the Act, cannabis may be prescribed in various forms, including cannabis flower, oils, extracts, tinctures, topicals, suppositories, edibles, and beverages, based upon the patient’s specific condition and health considerations.
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and the Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR) will regulate the medical cannabis program. MSDH will oversee the seed-to-product process, issuing licenses to patients, prescribers, and businesses to provide cultivation, processing, testing, waste removal, research, or transportation of medical cannabis. And upon approval from MDOR, MSDH will issue licenses to dispensaries. The Act requires MSDH to take action along a swift timeline: the agency has 90 days from passage of the Act to begin issuing registry ID cards, 120 days from passage to begin reviewing licensure applications for prescribers and businesses (except for dispensaries), and 150 days from passage to begin issuing dispensary licenses. MSDH will only have 30 days to review and approve licensure applications for all activities except for the approval of patients, which must occur within five days of receiving a patient’s application. Unlike many other states that took a competitive approach to licensure approval, Mississippi will not limit the number of licenses issued pursuant to the Act. MSDH estimates that it will begin accepting applications for licensure in June 2022.
Other features of the Act include the following:
- Restrictions on when and where a patient may consume medical cannabis (for example, it is illegal to smoke in public places and cars).
- Prescriber-certification requirements (for example, generally, patients between 18 and 23 must be certified by two prescribers practicing independently of one another).
- Provisions intended to lessen employers’ concerns with respect to their obligations under relevant laws (for example, permitting employers to refuse to hire a medical cannabis user).
- Protections for medical cannabis contracts related to legal activities under the Act.
Stay tuned for the latest developments as Mississippi begins building out the regulatory framework and implementing the medical cannabis program. If you would like more information regarding the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act or any other cannabis-industry insight, please reach out to the authors of this alert or any member of our cannabis practice group.