Federal restrictions on cannabis are deterring Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner from contributing to medical cannabis regulation

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

As lawmakers in Mississippi continue to ponder over the specifics of a medical cannabis program that would replace a voter-approved program previously rejected by the Supreme Court, state Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson (R) has told reporters that he is not willing to provide oversight for the prospective program.

Why? Because the cannabis plant remains illegal at the federal level and until the rules change, he’s unlikely to change his stance on the subject.  

All of us elected officials took an oath of office to ‘faithfully support the Constitution of the United States; and obey the laws thereof,’” reads an excerpt from a letter written by Gipson and addressed to Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R). A copy of the letter was sent to lawmakers. “Please explain how this office or the Department [of Agriculture] could legally license the growing and/or processing of a [cannabis] crop in violation of federal law.”

In November, voters approved Initiative 65. The measure stipulates that total program oversight is to be carried out by the state Health Department. However, additional agencies could be employed to deal with related tasks. 

Earlier in the year, lawmakers introduced a chunk of legislation that would require Gipson’s agency to provide licensing and regulation for all cannabis cultivators and processors partaking in the industry.

The state Board of Health, which voted against Initiative 65’s adoption, fought against the idea of placing this burden on the Health Department.

Agricultural agencies provide oversight for many states with medical cannabis programs

Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven is leading debates on Mississippi’s medical cannabis program. Although he has not engaged in a direct discussion with Gipson, he made a point of noting that a large chunk of the 38 states that have introduced medical cannabis programs already benefit from agricultural agency oversight.

If the Mississippi Legislature were to enact and the governor were to sign into state law a medical [cannabis] program, how would it be legal under the federal act to truck, ship, deliver, manufacture, distribute or dispense any part of the cannabis seed or plant as a Schedule 1 substance into the state of Mississippi?” Gipson added in his letter to the attorney general.

The debate over Mississippi’s proposed medical cannabis law continues.

Mississippi’s proposed cannabis law is set to be discussed during a special session 

A team of leading Senate and House negotiators are pushing to replace the medical cannabis program that was previously overturned by the state Supreme Court. According to the team, they have almost completed draft legislation that may soon be unveiled during a special legislative session.

“I would be surprised if there were not a special session soon, but that’s not my call. I think at some point soon we will be ready to say to the governor that we have something we can work with,” said Rep. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon.

Director of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, Ken Newburger, has confirmed that he has been consulting with Blackwell and Yancey. Based on his conversations with them, there’s a good chance that a special session will soon transpire.

Currently, the specifics pertaining to licensing and taxation agreements have not been released.