Legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi this year may have been a bold move, but it was carefully considered.
Marijuana growers and retailers now racing to get products planted, processed and sold, as well as doctors and patients eager to offer and try promising new treatments, must strictly adhere to directions dictated by the new law.
Here are the rules of the new road for patients, doctors, growers and distributors in Mississippi’s medical cannabis program.
Only those who really need it can get it
“There is no doubt that there are individuals in our state who could do significantly better if they had access to medically prescribed doses of cannabis,” Gov. Tate Reeves wrote in a statement shared to Twitter the day the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act passed the legislature in January 2022. But he quickly followed with a concern: “There are also those who really want a recreational marijuana program that could lead to more people smoking and less people working, with all of the societal and family ills that that brings.”
Walking that line between treatment and recreation
The Mississippi Legislature designated 23 medical conditions that qualify for marijuana treatment, including cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Sickle cell anemia and Alzheimer’s disease. It also allows use as treatment for chronic, debilitating pain. Conditions can be added to the list only by the Department of Health, not doctors.
But first, you need a card
Before purchase, patients must present an official medical cannabis card issued by the Mississippi Department of Health, good for a year. Here’s how get one:
- Visit a physician, nurse practitioner or optometrist participating in the medical cannabis program for an in-person assessment and a follow-up within six months.
- The medical professional will determine whether you have a qualifying medical condition and register your certification for medical cannabis use with the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program. Only physicians can certify minors for use. For people ages 18-25, considered more susceptible to abuse or a drug, a doctor plus another practitioner must sign off on certification.
- Within 60 days of medical certification, apply to the Medical Cannabis Program as a patient, using the Mississippi Department of Health website.
Patients have (some) rights
The law does not prevent any employer from firing or refusing to hire someone who is using medical cannabis or from having drug testing policies. Landlords are not required to allow medical cannabis production or use in rental property. The law does prevent people losing custodial or visitation rights with their children for use of medical cannabis, and the state says medical marijuana users shall not be denied the right to purchase or possess a firearm. But federal firearms purchasing regulations still prohibit marijuana use.
How much marijuana can patients buy?
Once qualified, patients may purchase up to 3.5 grams of cannabis flower or up to one gram of cannabis concentrate per day from licensed dispensaries. Patients will be limited to purchasing no more than three ounces, or 85 grams, of cannabis flower per month. Flowers are capped at 30% THC, the principal psychoactive component of cannabis, while concentrated products are capped at 60% THC. Dispensaries will be allowed to provide a wide variety of cannabis products including flower, vape cartridges and gummies to accommodate patients’ needs and personal preferences. This will especially benefit patients who live in apartments or other locales where smoking is not convenient or tolerated.
It is important to note, however, that smoking or vaping medical cannabis in any public place or inside a motor vehicle is prohibited. And there are no legal provisions for at-home cultivation.
Who can prescribe medical marijuana?
Physicians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and optometrists are all qualified to certify patients for medical cannabis cards. However, they must register annually with the Mississippi Department of Health and complete eight hours of continuing education on the subject of medical cannabis for the first year and five hours every year after that.
But not every medical practitioner can certify every patient
Only physicians can certify minors for use. For people ages 18-25, considered more susceptible to abuse or a drug, a doctor plus another practitioner have to sign off on certification.
The doctor/patient relationship
To issue patient certifications, physicians must complete an in-person assessment of the patient and perform a follow-up assessment every six months. Physicians may choose to impose shorter certified periods and restricted amounts of marijuana for patients. A practitioner issuing a certification is prohibited from being a medical cannabis dispensary agent or employee.
There’s also a hard line drawn between prescribing and selling.
Practitioners are prohibited from referring patients to specific medical cannabis establishments, advertising in medical cannabis establishments and issuing written certifications while holding a financial interest in a medical cannabis establishment.
GROWERS AND CULTIVATORS
It’s all made in Mississippi
Any cannabis that is sold in Mississippi must be grown in Mississippi — the sale of products produced outside of the state is strictly prohibited. This is to ensure that any economic activity surrounding the business positively impacts Mississippians and Mississippi workers. Additionally, Mississippi has a “seed to sale” tracking system to keep track of and to ensure the quality of any cannabis that is sold to patients and consumers in the state, something that wouldn’t be possible if the sale of out-of-state products was permitted.
Product is tested extensively before it ever hits the shelves
Any product sold must first go through extensive testing. Under the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, testing facilities are independently licensed but registered with the Mississippi Department of Health. Their function is to ensure that any cannabis being grown and packaged for sale is safe and possesses the correct potency. Testing facilities are equipped to test for heavy metals, microbial impurities, mycotoxins, residual pesticides, residual solvents and processing chemicals and other foreign materials. Without testing, you would risk impurities and biological hazards like mold finding their way into your system.
Zoning laws help keep your community as safe as possible
If you’re concerned that medical marijuana businesses opening in your area could pose a threat to your safety and well-being, legislators had those concerns in mind when drafting the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act. Medical cannabis establishments cannot open within 1,000 feet, or slightly more than three football fields, away from a school, church or child-care facility, unless the cannabis distributor has a waiver from those establishments. Additionally, to avoid a high concentration of medical cannabis facilities in a single area, they cannot open within 1,500 feet of each other. Medical cannabis establishments can operate only in areas zoned as commercial or in areas otherwise used for commercial purposes. These restrictions are on top of any zoning restrictions, ordinances or variances that your county and municipality may enact in response to this new Mississippi program.
DISPENSARIES AND DISTRIBUTORS
To purchase items at a dispensary, be prepared to pay in cash
Legal marijuana sales nationwide — for both medical and adult-use recreational purposes — are a cash-only business. This is due, in large part, to the fact that marijuana remains illegal federally. Credit and debit transactions are federally regulated so, as it stands, federally chartered banks can be penalized for providing services to cannabis-based businesses, however legitimate they may be within the state. For this reason, if you’re a Mississippi medical cannabis cardholder, show up to your dispensary of choice ready to pay for the green with the green.
Community zoning laws, part II
Just as growers and cultivators must adhere to a strict set of zoning restrictions, sellers of medical marijuana can’t just set up shop anywhere. Medical cannabis establishments cannot open within 1000 feet, or slightly more than three football fields, away from a school, church or child-care facility, unless a waiver is granted. Other zoning laws affecting growers and processors apply to dispensaries and distributors, as well.
Keeping track of the people
Individuals who want to own, run or work for a medical cannabis establishment such as a dispensary must be subject to a criminal background check. No one who has been convicted of a disqualifying felony offense (convictions for a crime of violence, violations of state and federal controlled substance law, etc.) and no one under 21 years of age is allowed to enter or work for a medical cannabis establishment. And be aware, even if you are not shopping for cannabis products, dispensaries and medical cannabis establishments are required to keep track of who is coming into and leaving their facilities in the form of a visitor log.
There is a cap on how much you can possess and purchase
When engaging with Mississippi’s new medical cannabis program, you may hear the term “units.” A “Medical Cannabis Equivalency Unit” is a term specific to Mississippi’s legislation.
The idea is that 3.5 grams of flower, 100 mg of THC infused products and one gram of concentrate are roughly equivalent. You cannot purchase more than six MCEUs in a week. That is, you cannot purchase more than 21 grams of flower in a week. You cannot purchase more than 24 MCEUs in a month (84 grams) and you cannot possess any more than 28 MCEUs (98 grams) at a time. The potency of what you purchase is also regulated: Flower cannot exceed 30% THC, and tinctures, oils and concentrates may not exceed 60%.
You can purchase for yourself and no one else
With the exception of parents purchasing cannabis for children and caregivers who have clearance from the Mississippi Department of Health, medical marijuana purchases are not transferable. You purchase it for yourself and yourself only. Owners of cannabis establishments and medical marijuana cardholders who are found to be abusing their privileges by “transferring” or diverting cannabis to others risk having their licenses/medical marijuana cards revoked and also may face felony charges.
Story by Violet Jira and Brighton Bensley