Tweaks in the medical cannabis program this session could include a look at what medical ailments are eligible for a medical cannabis card.
In 2022, Mississippi officially legalized the use of medical marijuana through the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program (MMCP). The program was established to oversee the product’s use for a specified list of approved medical conditions. This approval by the Legislature was the catalyst for a new industry that is growing all across the state.
The program is housed within the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH). The department oversees the regulation and enforcement of laws related to patient cards, medical practitioners, and cannabis cultivation facilities.
The Mississippi Independent Cannabis Association (MICA) aids small businesses in the cannabis industry, in an attempt to help them succeed against large industry titans. The group is a non-profit founded by local independent cannabis operators.
MICA’s goal is to educate lawmakers and regulators on the roles that the cannabis businesses play within their communities. The group also serves as a liaison between all facets of the cannabis industry in order to provide better understanding of the product and its uses.
“Getting industry discounts, things like that. Building the network, just because you’re a good grower doesn’t mean you’re a salesperson. Just because you can run a dispensary and do retail doesn’t mean you have any idea about growing. Just because you’ve worked in a kitchen doesn’t mean you can process cannabis goods,” said Mike Watkins, owner of Hill Top Grands and a MICA board member.
The medical cannabis industry in Mississippi has recently been in the spotlight for issues with products that failed testing requirements. MSDH did not immediately provide updates regarding the products on hold due to it being an open investigation but did say that re-testing has gone very well. A list of the released products can be found on the MMCP website.
Watkins said MSDH has been prompt to release the new lists of approved products each week. However, he said those in the industry are wondering if there are any tests that are continuing to fail.
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“We understand that it is an active investigation but they’re releasing tests that pass, why not release the tests that fail because some people do have these products in their homes? If it is a public safety issue, we want to make sure they are not ingesting them,” said Watkins.
He believes if individuals are made aware of the products in question, they can then dispose of them properly and receive allotments for new medicine.
As of December 2023, there are just over 32,000 patients and 190 caregivers in the state that received certification from physicians for medical cannabis cards. Just over 3,000 people hold permits to find employment within the industry and there are 393 establishments licensed to operate.
Among the different businesses, that number breaks down to around 177 dispensaries and just over 100 growers. Mississippi law does not currently cap the number of businesses that can enter the industry in varying ways.
Watkins indicated that small businesses interested in entering the industry have been able to do so at this time. What he anticipates will happen moving forward, is larger corporations and out of state companies eyeing how the industry moves forward in the state and then beginning to invest on their own.
Currently, 207 practitioners are registered to certify qualifying, debilitating conditions in patients who are eligible for a medical cannabis card in Mississippi.
MICA also serves as a buffer for doctors to learn more about the medical benefits of cannabis to better understand its prescribing impact.
“There are strains that are good for this, but not good for that. Although cannabis is good for epileptic patients and seizures, there are certain types that are better for use than others for that medical condition,” said Watkins.
Since it was implemented in 2023, MMCP has generated $8.8 million in revenue through application and licensure fees. MSDH has collected roughly $65,000 in fines, with the Department of Revenue (DOR) collecting $51,000 in fees.
The program has netted $949,641 in excise tax and $2,345,387 in sales tax for the year with $44 million generated in retail sales.
Ultimately, Watkins said communities have been accepting of the industry, generally speaking. Counties and cities were given the opportunity to opt out of the program when it was first announced. Those municipalities that did opt out can decide to opt in at any point.
For those that are still in opposition to dispensaries and growers in their area, Watkins said they are few and far between.
“Your churches, your law enforcement, they’re not looking at this like the opioid epidemic. They’re looking at it as a medicine with a legal clear pathway to have it,” said Watkins. “We are working together with everyone to ensure that happens.”
Moving forward, Watkins said MICA also aims to expand the conditions in which can be considered for a medical cannabis card, striking weekly allotments in lieu of a 30-day cycle, adjusting concentrates, adding better representation on the Cannabis Advisory Committee, and providing additional definitions for typical business activities.
Senator Kevin Blackwell (R), chairman of the Senate Medicaid Committee and the lawmaker who handled the initial medical marijuana bill, said there will be additional legislation to come out of both chambers this year to make minor adjustment to the program. This will likely include a reconsideration of the permissible medical ailments that qualify for a medical cannabis card based on recommendations from the Cannabis Advisory.
“There will be some little tweaks and some things we will have to continue to wait on because we just aren’t there yet,” said Senator Blackwell.
Blackwell said State Representative Lee Yancey (R) will also present a bill that regulates dried hemp sales, which can currently be sold in convenience stores without testing and age restrictions. This was allowed under the federal Farm Bill of 2018. Neither piece of legislation has been filed at this time.
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