The Mississippi Legislature steadfastly refused to consider legalizing medical marijuana, despite surveys indicating widespread support. Eventually, an initiative movement was launched, and Mississippi voters in November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana, snubbing an attempt by the Legislature to derail the initiative by proposing their own alternative in an effort to split the vote. It was one of the biggest rebukes to the state Legislature by the voters in many years.
Unlike many states, Mississippi does not allow voters to create new statutes, but it does allow voters to amend the state constitution. This is designed to make direct democracy more difficult and reduce the number of initiatives. In the case of medical marijuana, however, this has blown up in the Legislature’s face. Not only is medical marijuana about to be reality, it is now enshrined in our state constitution and beyond the reach of the state Legislature to do much tinkering with.
This is a particular vexing to lawmakers because the new marijuana constitutional clauses limit the ability of the state to tax marijuana beyond the funds necessary to administer the program and no more than the normal retail sales tax rate. This means Mississippians are about to have some of the least expensive marijuana in the country, denying the state government the hefty taxes it enjoys from other “sin” taxes, such as those on cigarettes, alcohol and gaming.
In addition, the constitutional amendment forbids limiting the size of the new marijuana industry. Instead, it requires that the free market, not licensing restrictions, determine the number of growers and shops.
Finally, eligibility for the drug does not require a prescription but simply an annual certification card, which can be awarded by any state-licensed physician for an unlimited number of ailments.
To sum it up, Mississippi is about to have one of the most wide-open medical marijuana programs in the nation.
This is driving the Legislature nuts. Already, legislators have introduced their own bill to “fill in the gaps.” Sen. Kevin Blackwell has filed SB 2765, entitled the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act. Blackwell described the bill as not overruling Initiative 65, but running parallel to it. And, of course, there would be new taxes not authorized by Initiative 65.
Unfortunately for the Legislature, and the people of Mississippi, this is an attempt to close the barn door after the cows have already gotten out. A medical marijuana tax could have benefitted education if the Legislature had seen the writing on the wall and gotten a law written before the people resorted to amending the state constitution.
The Legislature can pass all the laws it wants, but if these laws conflict with the clear language of Initiative 65, the state courts will have no choice but to slap the Legislature down and defend the constitution, pages of marijuana clauses and all.