Answers to frequently asked questions about the draft of the medical marijuana bill

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Oct. 10—Legislative leaders have agreed on a draft of medical marijuana legislation that includes opt-out provisions for local governments, levies sales and excise taxes on marijuana products and

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has the sole power to call lawmakers back into session before their regular session begins in January 2022. Reeves told members of the press recently that he and his team are reviewing the bill and working with legislative leaders on the agenda items for a special session, it he were to call it.

A medical marijuana program would have serious agricultural and public health implications for the state, so the Daily Journal answered some common questions about the 144-page draft of the Mississippi medical cannabis program.

Who can certify a patient for medical marijuana treatment?

Licensed physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and optometrists can legally certify someone for a medical marijuana treatment.

How can a medical practitioner certify someone for medical marijuana?

First, a qualified medical professional must complete eight hours of a continuing education course to legally certify or refer someone for a marijuana treatment. Every year after that, the professional must take five hours of education courses each year.

A patient must also physically go in-person to be examined by a practitioner, who will examine the patient's medical history and mental health condition. To legally certify, a practitioner must make the certification in writing.

After receiving the written certification from the practitioner, the patient must have a follow-up visit with the practitioner no less than six months after the date of issuance so the practitioner can evaluate the effectiveness of the marijuana treatment.

Are physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners or optometrists required to certify someone for marijuana?

No, the bill says that no medical practitioner will be required to certify a patient for medical marijuana — even if a patient would qualify for treatment under one of the debilitating medical conditions.

What types of debilitating conditions can qualify for medical marijuana certification?

The draft of the bill outlines over 20 different debilitating conditions that could qualify a patient for a medical marijuana treatment: Cancer, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, sickle-cell anemia, Alzheimer's disease, agitation of dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, pain refractory to appropriate opioid management, diabetic/peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord disease or severe injury, cachexia or wasting syndrome, chronic pain, severe or intractable nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms.

Can a debilitating condition be added to the list?

Yes, but only the Mississippi State Department of Health can add a condition. Anyone can petition the department to add a debilitating medical condition to its list, and officials at the department will conduct a public hearing on the petition.

How does a patient receive a medical marijuana card?

After a patient has received a legal certification for marijuana treatment from a medical practitioner, he or she must apply for a registration card through the Mississippi State Department of Health.

After the department reviews the information and determines that it is accurate and meets the legal qualifications, it will issue a registration card for the patient to legally obtain medical marijuana from a dispensary.

How much marijuana can a patient receive at one time?

Mississippi calculates medical marijuana limits as MMCEUs, which means Mississippi Medical Cannabis Equivalency Units. One unit is three-and-a-half grams of cannabis flower, one gram of cannabis concentrate or 100 milligrams of a THC infused product.

The current draft states that a patient cannot have more than a resident cardholder cannot purchase more than eight units in a single day and 32 units in 30 days. The total limit a person can have on-hand at one time is 40 units.

There are no possession limits for nonconsumable types of cannabis, which would include suppositories, soaps, ointments and lotions.

Can a county, city or town choose to opt out of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities to operate within their borders?

Yes, counties and municipalities have 90 days from the passage of the bill to bar the processing, sale and cultivation of medical marijuana within their borders.

If a county votes to opt out, this would only apply to unincorporated communities. For example, if the Lee County Board of Supervisors voted to bar dispensaries from operating, this would not necessarily prevent them from operating within the city of Tupelo or the city of Saltillo. But it would prevent dispensaries from operating in the Skyline community in Lee County.

If a public body opts out of medical marijuana, they can always opt back in by a vote.

If a county or a municipality votes to opt out, can the citizens do anything about it?

Yes, if a county or municipality chooses to opt out, then citizens can file a petition with the appropriate public body to protest the decision. If the signatures of either 1,500 citizens or 20% of the appropriate area's citizens — whichever is less — are submitted to the proper authority, then a special election can be conducted for the entire municipality or county to weigh in and vote.

If the citizens vote to allow the dispensing, processing and cultivation of marijuana, then the board's decision is reversed. If the citizens vote with their public body and ban the dispensing and cultivation of marijuana, then citizens have to wait at least two more years before another election can be conducted.

Can state or local law enforcement officials charge anyone for possessing or using medical marijuana?

No, they aren't supposed to. The bill specifically prohibits law enforcement agencies from spending state or local resources (which is every local police department, sheriff's department and state law enforcement agency) from seizing a patient's medical marijuana products solely on the basis that marijuana is still federally illegal.

Law enforcement agents still have the authority to charge someone of possessing and using marijuana for recreational purposes, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana and possessing more medical marijuana than is legally allowed.

How much will marijuana products be taxed?

All flower and trim products will be subject to a $15 an ounce excise tax. Marijuana products sold at dispensaries will be subject to the state's 7% sales tax.

Can patients smoke medical marijuana in a public setting?

No, the bill prohibits patients from smoking medical marijuana products in a public setting.

What are the requirements to obtain a license to operate any type of medical marijuana facility?

The person wishing to operate a medical marijuana facility must be at least 21 years old and not be convicted of a disqualifying felony offense, not have any delinquent state taxes, not have a previous marijuana license revoked and not be a member of the Legislature.

How long will it be before a patient can legally buy medical marijuana?

There is no straightforward answer to this question. The bill currently requires the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Mississippi Department of Health to start issuing licenses to the facilities they will oversee 60 days after the bill passes. The Mississippi Department of Revenue is required to start issuing licenses to dispensaries within 90 days of the bill's passage.

But even if a business has a license to grow or sell marijuana, that does not necessarily mean that the entity will have marijuana products immediately available to sell.

Who is implementing and overseeing the medical marijuana program?

The program will be implemented and overseen by three state agencies: The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the Mississippi Department of Revenue and the Mississippi State Department of Health.

The Agriculture Department will oversee disposal, processing, transportation and processing facilities. The Health Department will oversee testing and research facilities. The Revenue Department will oversee dispensaries.

Will medical marijuana be available for children?

Yes, medical practitioners can certify children younger than 18 years old for marijuana products as long as their legal guardian is present for the consultation and signs a written form of consent. Children must go through the same procedure as adults with a certification with a medical practitioner and the Health Department.

Can out-of-state residents purchase medical marijuana products in Mississippi?

Yes, out-of-state residents can purchase some medical marijuana products, as long as they have a legal certification and registry card from their respective state.

What are the zoning or distance restrictions for medical marijuana facilities?

Medical marijuana facilities cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a church, child care facility or a school. But a facility can seek a waiver from the church, child care center or school to operate within the restricted distance.

How much does it cost to apply for a medical marijuana license?

There is a tiered system for medical marijuana cultivation and processing facilities. Each size facility comes with its own application fee and registration fee.

taylor.vance@djournal.com

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