Late night smoke: Mississippi lawmakers revive medical marijuana tax hours after killing it

Published 6:02 am Friday, February 12, 2021

The Mississippi Senate did an about-face on a proposal to set a 7% sales tax on medical marijuana, first killing a bill and then reviving it hours later in an unusual session after midnight.

The first vote happened Thursday night, and the second one happened early Friday.

Mississippi residents voted by a wide margin in November to adopt Initiative 65, a constitutional amendment that authorizes medical marijuana in the state.

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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.

However, the Mississippi Supreme Court is set to hear arguments April 14 in a lawsuit that is seeking to block the medical marijuana program.

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filed the lawsuit that argues the initiative was improperly on the ballot because petitioners gathered signatures from outdated congressional districts.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.