This is going to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. Today we turn to number 36: Mississippi. Our previous rankings are as follows: 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Law. In 2014, Mississippi decriminalized marijuana possession to eliminate jail time for a first and small possession. Possession for less than 30 grams of marijuana in Mississippi is punished as follows:
- The first conviction earns a fine of between $100-250;
- A second conviction within two years earns a fine of $250 and between 5-60 days in the county jail in addition to mandatory participation in a drug education program; and
- A third or subsequent conviction within two years earns a $250-500 fine and between 5 days and 6 months in the county jail.
Possession of larger amounts is punished with harsher penalties:
- 30-250 grams earns up to a $3,000 fine and up to 3 years incarceration;
- 250-500 grams earns up to a $50,000 fine and 2-8 years incarceration;
- 500 grams to 1 kilogram earns up to a $250,000 fine and 4-16 years incarceration;
- 1-5 kilograms earns a up to a $500,000 fine and 6-24 years incarceration; and
- More than 5 kilograms earns up to a $1,000,000 fine and 10-30 years incarceration.
A conviction for the sale, trade, or distribution of marijuana of less than 30 grams earns a maximum $3,000 fine and up to 3 years in prison. If the amount is between 30 grams and 1 kilogram it can earn a fine up to $30,000 and up to 20 years in prison. Larger amounts can earn a fine of $5,000-1,000,000 and up to 30 years in prison. The sale, trade, distribution of more than ten pounds in one by a person over age 21 earns a mandatory life-sentence without possibility of reduction, probation, or parole. Mississippi also punishes for “trafficking in a controlled substance,” which means when a person commits 3 offenses within 1 year in at least 2 different counties. Trafficking is punished by up to thirty years in prison.
Medical Marijuana. In 2014, Mississippi Passed House Bill 1231, which included “Harper Grace’s Law.” The law was named after Mississippi resident Harper Grace Durval, a 2-year-old who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. The law is another example of the legalization of high-CBD, low-THC oil. It creates an affirmative defense where qualifying individuals and their caregivers will not face prosecution for possession of CBD oil. Individuals who suffer from epileptic conditions or related illness must get authorization from a physician for the protection to apply. The law also permits the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University to produce and possess CBD for research. Patients may obtain CBD oil from one of those schools.
Future Legalization. Mississippi has an initiative process. This bodes well for future legalization measures in that Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Washington D.C. all legalized recreational marijuana via an initiative process. However, conservative Mississippi voters do not seem likely to legalize recreational marijuana or expand Harper Grace’s law any time soon.
Two initiative measures to legalize marijuana failed to qualify for the 2016 ballot. Initiative 48 and Initiative 52 both sought to legalize and tax the adult use of marijuana in Mississippi. Neither initiative could garner enough signatures for inclusion on the upcoming ballot. The lack of signatures indicates Mississippi voters are not ready for marijuana legalization.
The curious case of Ole Miss marijuana. The University of Mississippi (known as Ole Miss) has the distinction of being the federal government’s main marijuana producer. The school has a permit from the U.S. government to grow marijuana. Ole Miss started growing cannabis for Uncle Sam in 1968 for research purposes. Shortly after that, the federal government implemented the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program (CINDP) which allows the Feds to distribute marijuana grown at Ole Miss to a very small list of people in the United States for medical use. Currently only four people are on this exclusive and coveted list. Recently, the DEA sent a letter to Congress providing information on the grow operation at Ole Miss (you may have heard that the letter also said the DEA will reconsider classifying marijuana as a Schedule I substance). In addition to patients, researchers can apply to the DEA to obtain Ole Miss’ famous weed for research purposes.
Bottomline. Mississippi is one of the most interesting states we have covered in this series. The State has decriminalized marijuana and no longer punishes lower-level possession charges with jail time. However, penalties for possessing large amounts and for distributing are draconian. Patients can receive CBD oil, but the program is very restrictive and Mississippi is not likely to allow recreational marijuana any time soon. The situation at Ole Miss is more of a quirk than an actual reflection on Mississippi’s marijuana policy. Mississippi is overall a very conservative state, and though marijuana support often crosses party lines, Mississippi voters do not seem willing to make that crossing. This is the State that is making headlines for a bill that allows people to discriminate against gay couples based on religious beliefs, and though that law does not speak directly to marijuana laws, it does help illustrate Mississippi’s political climate. Mississippi misses the mark on marijuana and it has landed on the wrong side of our rankings.