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Hell’s Getting Chilly: Alabama & Mississippi Take Up Cannabis Reform

June 11, 2019
Alabama and Mississippi traditionally embrace prohibition, but small cannabis reforms are coming in the two Southern states.
Mississippi and Alabama are among America's most staunch prohibitionist states, but there's reason for hope. (SOPHIE-CARON/iStock)
Take it as another sign of the growing acceptance of cannabis nationwide: Two of America’s most cannaphobic states are finally making progress on reform. Things are happening in Alabama and Mississippi, y’all.

Medical legalization stalled in the Alabama Legislature, but a new commission will draft a bill for 2020.

In Alabama yesterday, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill to create a new medical marijuana commission. That group will study medical cannabis and help draft proposed legislation ahead of the 2020 session in Montgomery. Tucked into the same bill was a clause that extends “Carly’s Law,” a sunsetting measure that allows a few patients to access CBD oil through a program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The commission bill emerged as a compromise after a full medical cannabis legalization measure, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

There’s also been progress on the hemp front. Farmers across the state began planting thousands of legal hemp plants last month, in the wake of federal and state changes legalizing the crop. In late April, the state’s Department of Agriculture issued 180 hemp cultivation licenses under Alabama’s new Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program. According to AL.com, it’s the first legal hemp crop planted in the state since 1937.

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Mississippi Measure Nears Magic Number

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a petition to legalize medical cannabis is nearing the magic number of 86,185 signatures needed to put it on the November 2020 ballot. Jamie Grantham, communications director for the group Medical Marijuana 2020, told the Jackson Free Press last week that they have two-thirds of the necessary signatures. The deadline to turn in petitions is in September.

Under the proposed initiatives, licensed physicians would be able to recommend medical marijuana for their patients. The patients would then register with the Mississippi Department of Health, which oversees the program. A state-issued ID card would allow patients to access a dispensary, which the petition calls a marijuana treatment center.

Jeff Jones, clinical liaison for special projects at the state Health Department, told the Free Press that he expects the first medical treatment center to open in early 2021 if the initiative passes. “Mississippians, I believe, will approve this because we are helping people that need help that they can’t get,” Jones told reporter Aliyah Veal. “We want to help. If we were trying to approve recreational marijuana, I’m not sure it would fly.”

In January, a poll from Millsaps College and Chism Strategies found that more than two-thirds of Mississippi residents favored legalizing medical cannabis, while 24% opposed the idea.

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Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

View Bruce Barcott's articles

  • familyguy

    Southern states always fail when it comes to cannabis due to religious or conservative views. The earning potential is extreme for the first southern state due to it’s location and because more people love weed More than they are willing to admit. Like the joke of the fishing buddy and his beer says if you only invite one Baptist he will smoke up all your pot, always invite two that way, they keep each other straight. In other words recreational sales in a state like Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama would make mountain of money. But, there is a need for the first state to be smart about the issue and realize what is happening in the industry.

  • Real Logic

    Seems like an author working for Leafly would be aware that small amounts of cannabis have always been decriminalized in MS.