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Mississippi board sets timeline to start medical marijuana

February 3, 2021 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Regulations for a medical marijuana program in Mississippi will be in place by a July 1 deadline, members of the state Board of Health said Wednesday. 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.

“I worry that there’s a little bit of a misconception among some in the public about what that means,” board member Jim Perry said during a meeting Wednesday. “They may be expecting that on Aug. 15, that you can walk into a dispensary or treatment center, whatever the nomenclature may be, and say, ‘I got my card this morning. I’m here for my marijuana.’”

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Perry said growing marijuana plants for the program could take months. He said people cannot grow plants before they get a license, and then regulators will need to test the medicinal strength of the plants.

“It could be months after Aug. 15 before there’s actually product at a treatment center for a cardholder to purchase,” Perry said.

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.

Mississippi residents voted by a wide margin in November to adopt a medical marijuana initiative. The constitutional amendment requires the Health Department to create a program so marijuana can be available to people with “debilitating” medical conditions. The long list includes cancer, epilepsy and sickle cell anemia.

During the Board of Health meeting Wednesday, Dr. Luke Lampton said that based on conversations he has had with Mississippi residents, he would like the board to limit involvement by out-of-state corporations in growing or dispensing medical marijuana.

The Mississippi Supreme Court is set to hear arguments April 14 in Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s lawsuit that is seeking to block the medical marijuana program. She argues that the initiative was improperly on the ballot because petitioners gathered signatures from outdated congressional districts. State attorneys argue that the petitioners were using guidance from a former attorney general.

Separately, Mississippi legislators are starting to consider bills that would regulate a medical marijuana program — a route that might be needed if the Supreme Court sides with Butler.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.