Recreational marijuana is illegal in Mississippi. In January 2022, the Mississippi legislature approved Senate Bill 2095, signed into law by the governor in February of the same year, making Mississippi the 37th state with a medical cannabis program through the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act. To participate in the state's medical cannabis program, patients must have one of the qualifying medical conditions and obtain a written certification from a licensed healthcare practitioner. Within 60 days of receiving the medical certification, the patients must apply online to the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program (MMCP). The MMCP issues the patient an electronic identification card for the duration specified by the certifying practitioner or a maximum of one year. However, for patients between 18 - 23 to qualify for medical marijuana, they must obtain a written certification from two medical practitioners in different practices. On receipt of the identification card, patients can purchase medical marijuana from any of the state's licensed dispensaries. Mississippi law permits patients to buy 3 ounces of cannabis per month and possess no more than 3.5 ounces of medical marijuana. The state expects to commence the sale of medical marijuana to patients by January 2023. Although medical marijuana is legal in Mississippi, it is illegal for patients to grow their plants. The penalty for cultivating marijuana depends on the aggregate weight of the plants found.
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) is the primary regulatory authority for the state's medical cannabis program. The MSDH provides licenses for medical cannabis cultivation, testing, transportation, processing, and waste disposal facilities and also coordinates the registration for patients, caregivers, and medical practitioners certifying patients.
Generally, a felon may purchase medical marijuana in Mississippi if they meet the program's criteria of having a qualifying medical condition, being of legal age, and obtaining a written certification from a licensed practitioner. However, having a drug-related conviction may eliminate the felon from consideration.
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.
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.
The legalization of medical marijuana has positively impacted Mississippi’s economy. As of September 2022, Center Square reports that the state of Mississippi has collected nearly $6 million in revenue from medical marijuana companies before the actual sales commence. These fees relate to the licensing and application fees for cultivators, dispensaries, processors, laboratories, and transportation companies. The state also intends to impose a 7% tax on retail sales and 5% excise tax on wholesale sales from dispensaries and growers of medical marijuana when official sales begin.
With the commencement of medical marijuana sales by 2023, Mjbizdaily estimates that revenue from medical marijuana sales in Mississippi could get up to $265 million within the first year and up to $800 million by the fourth year. It also estimates that the potential medical marijuana tax revenue accruing to the state within three years of establishing the program could hit $47 million.
The legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi also sees thousands of job creation in the state. As of November 2022, more than 100 marijuana cultivation and processing facilities have received their license to commence operations. A large marijuana cultivation facility could create up to 200 jobs paying an average salary of $50,000 annually. These medical marijuana cultivation and processing facilities engage the services of security operatives, warehouse managers, truck drivers, salespeople, and store managers. 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).
By 2020, the number of marijuana possession and sales arrests recorded in the FBI Crime Data Explorer for Mississippi stood at 2,991 and 301. In comparison to 2019 arrest data for marijuana possession and sale, there was a 17% and 32 % reduction in arrests made for marijuana possession and sale. As of 2021, there were 3,592 arrests made for marijuana possession and 169 arrests for the sale and manufacturing of marijuana. Although there was a 20% increase in marijuana possession arrests, there was a 44% reduction in arrests made for the sale and manufacturing of marijuana.
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.
However in 2022, Governor Tate Reeves signed Senate Bill 2095 into law. The bill sponsored by Kevin Blackwell, establishes Mississippi’s medical marijuana program. The act provides patients with a qualifying medical condition access to medical marijuana, and specifies their possession and purchasing limits. It provides the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card through which a patient may access medical cannabis from a dispensary. The bill establishes the MDOH as the primary regulatory authority and the Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR) as the regulatory body in charge of licensing medical marijuana dispensaries. The bill permits licensed Mississippi medical practitioners to sign patient's written certification for medical cannabis. The bill sets forth the rules and regulations for medical cannabis businesses and its employees, and imposes a retail sales tax on patients purchase and an excise tax on medical marijuana businesses.
Senate Bill 2285, initiated by Senator Barbara Blackmon and passed by the Senate in July 2022, makes adjustments to the penalties for the possession of small quantities of marijuana. The bill stipulates that possession of a small amount of marijuana be treated as a civil offense punishable by fines only.