The fight for medical marijuana in Mississippi may be facing yet another obstacle.
The Mississippi Senate did an about-face on a proposal to set a 7% sales tax on medical marijuana, killing the bill Thursday night and then reviving it in the wee hours of Friday morning.
Mississippi residents voted by a wide margin in November to adopt Initiative 65, a constitutional amendment that authorizes medical marijuana in the state.
Since it was put on the ballot at the beginning of 2020 by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, the initiative has received a lot of pushback – first from an opposing bill that was put on the 2020 election ballot, then from a lawsuit attempting to invalidate the bill altogether. The Mississippi Supreme Court is set to hear arguments April 14 in the lawsuit that is seeking to block the medical marijuana program.
The initiative requires the state Health Department to create a program so marijuana can be available later this year to people with “debilitating” medical conditions. The long list includes cancer, epilepsy and sickle cell anemia.
During the Senate debates Thursday night and early Friday, Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of Olive Branch said his proposal in Senate Bill 2765 is not intended to create a separate medical marijuana program from the one authorized by voters. Rather, he said his plan would be a backup in case a court blocks Initiative 65.
The proposed sales tax was a new aspect, though. Initiative 65 did not include a tax.
Creating a new tax requires a 60% majority of the senators voting at the time, and the vote Thursday night fell short of that: 30 senators voted yes, 21 voted no and one senator did not vote. At least 31 yes votes were needed.
The vote Friday was 30 in favor and 19 against, with three senators not voting. At least 29 votes were needed to reach the 60% margin with 49 senators voting.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed the lawsuit that argues the initiative was improperly on the ballot because petitioners gathered signatures from outdated congressional districts. State attorneys say the petitioners were using guidance from a former attorney general.
Members of the state Board of Health said Feb. 3 that regulations for a medical marijuana program in Mississippi would be in place by a July 1 deadline, but they cautioned that it’s unclear how soon marijuana might be available to patients.
Aug. 15 is the deadline for the state to begin issuing licenses for dispensaries and cards for patients. The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said it could take six to nine weeks for growers to get viable plants for use in the program. He said the Health Department could try to “get a little ahead” of the July 1 and Aug. 15 deadlines.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.