Recreational marijuana is illegal in Mississippi, but the use of low-THC cannabis is allowed for medical purposes. Under the Harper Grace's Law, designated HB 1231, signed into law in 2014, patients with severe epilepsy can only use low-THC cannabis to treat their debilitating medical condition. This law, although restrictive, provides a defense to such medical patients and their parents or guardians to possess and use CBD oil or resin containing at least 15% CBD. If in liquid form, HB 1231 permits medical patients to use at least 50 milligrams of CBD per milliliter with not more than 0.5% THC.
Generally, the use of recreational marijuana in Mississippi is still punishable by fines, criminal convictions, and jail time. As with the federal government, Mississippi classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, and as such, has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value. However, Miss. Code §§ 41-29-113, 41-29-136 (2019) made an exception for CBD use and possession. In 1978, Mississippi decriminalized the simple possession of marijuana, but only for first-time offenders. All other marijuana offenses, including the sale and cultivation of cannabis in the state, are considered a felony and attract penalties. These penalties are more severe if sold to a minor or around a school or church. Probation is usually given for first-time offenders instead of prison sentences.
An overwhelming majority of the voters in Mississippi approved Initiative 65 in the November 3, 2020 election, an Initiative that was going to legalize medical marijuana fully for 22 qualifying medical conditions. However, on May 14, 2021, the state's Supreme Court overturned the Initiative on the premise that the Initiative process is outdated and the medical marijuana measure was not suitably on the ballot. Consequently, the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) has halted the development of the Mississippi Marijuana Program. Currently, some Mississippi lawmakers are painstakingly working on proposals to create a medical marijuana program for the state. While legalizing recreational marijuana in Mississippi is not yet in sight, Mississippians can petition to have a vote on recreational marijuana legalization put on the ballot. The usual trend from states that have legalized recreational cannabis is that they legalized medical marijuana first. Initiative 65, which would have prepared the grounds for recreational marijuana legalization in Mississippi, was in May 2021 invalidated by the state's Supreme Court.
Since the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi did not go as planned, the proposed medical marijuana program, which was to be managed by the Mississippi State Department of Health, was stopped. Consequently, the state is yet to design a medical marijuana identification card as proposed by Initiative 65. The Harper Grace Law currently requires the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) located at the University of Mississippi to provide CBD oil to users. However, the NCNPR restricts the dispensing of CBD oil to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) under appropriate federal and state regulatory approval. Because of these restrictions and the difficulty in obtaining requisite approvals from the relevant federal agencies, the current program only serves a few qualified medical patients in Mississippi. It is not providing readily accessible CBD medication to persons suffering from debilitating medical conditions as expected.
A proposed ballot, Initiative 52, relating to the legalization of cannabis in Mississippi, sought to amend the Mississippi Constitution to include the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act. This Act intended to legalize marijuana for persons 18 years and older for medical purposes and authorizes the collection of taxes on marijuana. The sponsor of Initiative 52 believes that the Act will legalize the cannabis market in Mississippi and give businesses (marijuana cultivators, manufacturers, distributors), doctors, caregivers, and patients protection from prosecution by the government.
Initiative 52 proposed that the Mississippi Department of Revenue will collect cannabis agriculture taxes for education (50%) and healthcare (50%). It is expected to add an estimated 7,000 jobs and $120 million annual economic growth impact to the Mississippi economy. All licenses fees and other mandatory cannabis fees will be deposited into the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Fund for continuous operations, management, compliance, enforcement, and cannabis market rules making. Similarly, according to the tax foundation, Mississippi's potential recreational excise tax revenue, based on the 2020 fiscal year average taxes paid per marijuana user in states with a legal cannabis market, is $47.3m. Besides the general sales tax, legal cannabis businesses would also pay business taxes, and their employees would pay individual income taxes. Generally, the economic benefit of increased job opportunities is exponential as it helps contribute to a cycle of economic growth. Legal cannabis in Mississippi will also create many indirect and induced jobs.
In 2014, Mississippi legalized only low-THC cannabis for the treatment of acute epilepsy. A report by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2012 revealed that Mississippi had a violent crime rate of 260.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2013, this went up to 274.6, while 2014, the year low-THC cannabis was legalized for medical purposes, had a violent crime rate of 278.5 per 100,000 residents. However, in 2015, the violent crime rate per 100,000 Mississippians declined slightly to 275.8. Again, in 2016, this figure increased over the previous year where the violent crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants stood at 280.5. The situation in 2017 was no different as the state recorded a violent crime rate of 285.7 per 100,000 residents.
There was a sharp decline in 2018. In that year, the UCR program reported that 234.4 Mississippians out of every 100,000 inhabitants committed violent crimes. A close look at the period under review showed that 2019 had the highest violent crime rate in the state as the figure surged to 510.8 per 100,000 residents. Except for 2019, the number of violent crimes recorded over the years left no wide margin, but the increasing violent crime rate can be largely attributed to marijuana.
Between 2014 and 2019, the number of DUI arrests in Mississippi somewhat declined, while arrests for marijuana possession and sales technically increased over the years. In 2014, the FBI's Crime Data Explorer recorded 9,451 DUI arrests, 4,903 marijuana possession arrests, and 316 marijuana sales arrests in the state. The number of DUI arrests went down to 8,600 in 2015. However, marijuana possession and marijuana sales arrests increased to 4,977 and 414, respectively, compared to 2014. Again, in 2016, the number of DUI arrests in Mississippi declined to 8,039, while the number of marijuana possession arrests and marijuana sales arrests increased to 5,329 and 423, respectively. The FBI reported 9,186 DUI arrests, 5,485 marijuana possession arrests, and 594 marijuana sales arrests in 2017. Compared to 2017, the number of DUI arrests (6,955), marijuana possession (3,857), and marijuana sales (393) fell in 2018. In 2019, these figures further went down (DUIs had 6,216 arrests while marijuana possession arrests accounted for 3,621 arrests), except for marijuana sales arrests (444).
A medical marijuana card is an identity card issued by a state that enables a patient with a physician's recommendation to obtain medical cannabis legally at licensed dispensaries and possess them. Getting a medical marijuana card offers an added protection from prosecutions by law enforcement. It also guarantees the holder consistent access to quality cannabis. Generally, medical marijuana card owners obtain medical cannabis at more affordable rates and pay fewer taxes on marijuana purchases in states where recreational marijuana is legal.
In May 2021, the Mississippi Supreme Court invalidated Initiative 65, which would have legalized medical marijuana fully and established a medical marijuana program. The program was going to enable patients with debilitating medical conditions to obtain medical marijuana cards. Such medical conditions include:
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) was tasked with medical marijuana card issuance before the May 2021 action by the state's Supreme Court. The department had a laid down plan for issuing medical marijuana cards but was stopped because of this development. However, the MSDH will most definitely adopt the process when medical marijuana eventually becomes legal in Mississippi. The MSDH requires a Mississippi physician to examine a person with a debilitating medical condition and must be done within the state. A physician may certify a person to use medical marijuana if they conclude that such an individual suffers from a qualifying debilitating medical condition and that medical cannabis use may relieve the symptoms. To certify a patient, the physician will issue a form (physician certification) as prescribed by the Mississippi Board of Health, which is typically valid for 12 months. However, a physician may specify a shorter period.
An individual with a debilitating medical condition who has been issued a physician certification becomes a qualified medical patient under this proposal. The MSDH then releases a medical marijuana card to a qualifying patient, which allows them to obtain medical cannabis from a licensed and regulated treatment center (dispensary). The MSDH will design and maintain a real-time online database to prevent a medical patient from shopping for medical cannabis among multiple treatment centers. The initial proposal for a medical marijuana program sets the cost of a medical marijuana card at $50. Initiative 65 did not make provision for marijuana home cultivation by medical marijuana cardholders.
Mississippi decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1978, which eradicated a jail sentence for a first marijuana offense and replaced it with probation. In 2014, Governor Phil Bryant approved Harper Grace's Law, also known as HB 1232, to allow cannabis for the treatment of patients who suffer from a debilitating epileptic condition. The law was named after Harper Grace Durval, a young girl with an acute form of epilepsy. HB 1231 allows epileptic patients and their parents or guardians to possess and use CBD oil or resin containing at least 15% CBD. It also permits them to use 50 milligrams of CBD per milliliter with not more than 0.5% THC in liquid form. HB 1232 is highly restrictive as it requires the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi to provide CBD oil to users. The NCNPR limits the dispensing of CBD oil to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) under appropriate federal and state regulatory approval. Consequently, the program is not providing readily accessible CBD medication to many persons suffering from debilitating medical conditions in the state. It only serves a few qualified medical patients.
In the November 2020 elections, Mississippi voters approved Initiative 65 to legalize medical marijuana fully as a treatment for 22 debilitating medical conditions. The Initiative created a process for only qualified Mississippi physicians to recommend medical cannabis for patients with qualifying debilitating conditions after a proper evaluation. It is also intended to allow medical patients and their caregivers to obtain, possess, and use marijuana for medical purposes. Initiative 65 equally required the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) to develop a medical marijuana program that will spearhead the issuance of medical marijuana cards to qualifying medical patients. As part of the plan towards legalizing medical marijuana in Mississippi, the MSDH was authorized to start issuing treatment center (dispensary) licenses by August 2021 until the state's Supreme Court overturned Initiative 65.
Right before the 2020 election, the mayor of Madison had requested the Mississippi Supreme Court to invalidate the petition for Initiative 65. Although the Initiative had over 70% of the voters' support in the election, the Supreme Court invalidated it in May 2021, stating that the Initiative process was outdated. The Supreme Court claimed that the Mississippi Constitution requires an equal percentage of signatures from five congressional districts. However, there were only four as the state had a redistricting in 2000. Proponents of this Initiative are not resting on their oars and are working tirelessly to legalize medical cannabis in Mississippi in the next election and then recreational marijuana in the long run.