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Initiative 65 organizers supportive of new medical marijuana proposal

As lawmakers prepare to adopt a medical marijuana program, the organizers of Initiative 65—the program adopted by voters and struck down by the State Supreme Court—are pleased with the language in the current proposal. 

The 144-page bill was released last week after it was revealed that both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature had reached an agreement on the proposal. 

Ken Newburger, the executive director of the Mississippi Medical Association, joined SuperTalk Mississippi and praised Representative Lee Yancey and Senator Kevin Blackwell for drafting the bill. 

“We like it a lot. There are only two issues that we see in the bill, and in 140 pages that they have, if you only have two things that jump out, that’s a pretty dang good bill in my opinion,” he said. 

Those issues include a $15 per ounce excise tax that Newburger fears will drive more Mississippians to the black market as well as providing funding to the agencies overseeing the program. 

Newburger reiterated concerns shared by Ag Commissioner Andy Gipson and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs regarding the additional funding needed to sustain operations for the program. The Mississippi State Department of Health will be tasked with administering the program and the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Revenue will also have regulatory duties. 

Governor Tate Reeves stated Wednesday that funding is among the final details that are being worked out before he is ready to call a special session. 

Under Initiative 65, all proceeds would’ve been redirected back to MSDH to create a self-sustaining program. In addition to the excise tax, medical marijuana, in the new proposal, would also be subject to the 7% sales tax. 

Once implemented, medical marijuana prescriptions can be administered to patients by physicians, certified nurse practitioners, physician assistants and optometrists. The following conditions qualify: 

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. 

These are the same conditions included in Initiative 65 with the addition of hepatitis, Alzheimer’s and spastic quadriplegia. 

All growing will be done indoors, which Newburger says is the best way to ensure a highly regulated and controlled program. 

Individual municipalities across the state will be able to opt out of the program within 90 days after passage, but residents can launch a referendum to get the issue placed on the ballot. Municipalities that opt out can also opt back in at a later date. 

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