Bradley attorney Whitt Steineker was quoted in the Mississippi Business Journal on Initiative 65, which proposes to amend the Mississippi Constitution to allow qualified patients to use medical marijuana. Cannabis advocacy organizations are pushing for Mississippi to become the 34th state to enact medical marijuana in 2020, but the Mississippi Department of Health and members of the governing board are not enthused about the idea of treating patients with marijuana due to health and safety concerns.
The Department of Health and its board will nonetheless have huge sway on what medical marijuana looks like in Mississippi, said Steineker.
“What Mississippi is going to do is leave a lot of discretion to the Department of Health,” Steineker said.
Expect Mississippi officials, he said, to block and divert wherever they can, including the likelihood legislators will introduce a more restrictive ballot measure of their own.
“No doubt about it that the opposition from many in power in state government in Mississippi presents a challenge to implementing this, if it passes,” Steineker said.
Even with passage, expect everyone from local zoning boards to state law enforcement “to drag their feet” on Initiative No. 65, he predicted.
But he doesn’t expect the local and state authorities to actually fully block a new law. “They will get nitpicky on technicities,” he said.
Should they refuse to apply the law, “I don’t think the courts would take to that very well,” Steineker added.
However, if the Nov. 3 voting outcome is similar to the 70 percent or more of state voters who favor medical marijuana, state officials may be less prone to setting up barriers to legal cannabis treatments, Steineker predicted.
State and local officials also would have the measure itself to deal with. It specifies that local municipalities “shall not impair the availability of and reasonable access to medical marijuana.” The proposal further mandates that state officials begin providing licenses for retailers no later than August 15, 2021.
Nothing in the proposed amendment alters rules on drugs in the workplace, explained Steineker. “If you have a drug-free workplace you can continue that,” he said.
Further, Mississippi businesses won’t have to worry about costs of their company-provided health insurance going up to cover workers who are cannabis patients. As long as marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug banned under the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, insurers won’t cover it.
It’s unsettled terrain for banks, real estate firms, equipment companies and others wanting to venture into the emerging sector, he noted.
“I try not to go around telling people to go get a lawyer,” Steineker said, but added: “This is one you really want to take counsel on. Get a good adviser with legal experience.”
The original article, “Medical 'Pot' Advocacy Groups Cite Big Upsides in Mississippi Plan” first appeared in the Mississippi Business Journal on January 23, 2020.