JACKSON, Miss. (Jan. 27, 2022) – Yesterday, the Mississippi House and Senate gave final approval to a bill that would legalize medical marijuana despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition – and objections from Gov. Tate Reeves.
Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R) and a bipartisan coalition of nine senators introduced Senate Bill 2095 (SB2095) on Jan. 11. The legislation would legalize medical marijuana and create a legal structure for the program. Under the law, patients with about two dozen specific medical conditions would qualify for medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. Regulators would have the power to add additional conditions. Under a compromise reached between the House and Senate, patients will be limited to 3 ounces of cannabis per month.
The governor was non-committal about whether he would sign the bill. He has expressed opposition to legalizing medicinal cannabis. But he praised legislators for working with him on the legislation after it passed both houses.
“I’m very pleased that we got to see so much progress made in improving the bill over the last six months. We worked hard to reduce the overall amount of marijuana in the bill, and to the legislature’s credit, they made a lot of progress there. It initially started at 5 ounces, it’s down to 3, so a 40% decline in the total amount of marijuana any individual can get in one year. They also ensured to protect young people if you’re under 25 you’ll need a physician that approves the allowance of a marijuana card.”
Mississippi voters approved a measure to legalize medical marijuana n the 2020 general election, but the state Supreme Court overturned the referendum on a procedural technicality.
There is significant political opposition to legalizing medical cannabis in Mississippi. Gov. Reeves had threatened to veto SB2095 because he thought purchase limits were too high – thus the negotiations in the legislature. And last year, Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson (R) said he doesn’t see how his office can participate in a marijuana program given cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
Blackwell countered claims that the proposed measure would be too lax and effectively legalize recreational marijuana. “I suggest that if you think that, maybe you should take the time and actually read the bill, because you’ll find that it is a medical bill,” he said on the Senate floor.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi would take the first step and remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Mississippi could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 36 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore. The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
Gov. Reeves will have five working days from the date SB2095 is transmitted to his office to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action, it will become law without his signature.