The Mississippi Senate voted 47-5 on Thursday to legalize medical marijuana, a move that comes more than a year after voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure that was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.
If the long-awaited legislation, which now heads to the House for consideration, becomes law this session, a medical cannabis program could be up and running in the state by later this year.
Its route to passage, however, remains precarious. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has already threatened a veto over its proposed purchase limits, which he says are too high, and some other state officials remain wary. But supportive lawmakers have said they’re confident they’ll have the votes to override any veto and push the legislation through.
Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R), the bill’s chief sponsor, pushed back on claims from the governor and others that the measure would be so lax as to effectively legalize marijuana for recreational use. “I suggest that if you think that, maybe you should take the time and actually read the bill, because you’ll find that it is a medical bill,” he said on the floor Thursday.
Medical marijuana remains a contentious topic in Mississippi despite voters there decisively approving a broad legalization initiative in November 2020. The state Supreme Court overturned the measure on procedural grounds last May—simultaneously doing away with the state’s entire initiative process—and lawmakers have spent the last several months navigating what comes next.
The bill, SB 2095, draws heavily from provisions negotiated by lawmakers in the second half of last year, as legislative leaders prepared a bill for an anticipated special session that the governor never called. It would allow patients with about two dozen specific medical conditions to qualify for medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation, with further conditions able to be added later by regulators. State-issued registration cards would cost $25, though some patients could qualify for a lower price.
Legalization advocates say the 445-page bill represents a middle ground between the more permissive plan approved by nearly three-quarters of state voters in 2020 and a far narrower approach preferred by the governor and some lawmakers.
The bill needs a three-fifths supermajority support in both chambers to pass.
During Thursday’s floor session, Blackwell criticized what he described as the “paranoid, Reefer Madness, Chicken Little belief expressed by a few skeptics that if we pass a medical cannabis bill, the streets of Mississippi will be flooded by pot-smoking zombies.” He’s repeatedly said that the bill aims to bring a conservative approach to cannabis regulation.
Blackwell also brought hemp to the Senate floor to illustrate purchase limits. In addition to a joint, he displayed two bags — one containing the daily limit of 3.5 grams, and another containing a full ounce of hemp.
Senator Jeff Tate of Clark andLauderdale counties was one of several lawmakers to attempt to smell the product pic.twitter.com/iJ9KbJAEm8
— Kobee Vance (@kobeevance) January 13, 2022
Qualifying conditions under the bill include cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, Alzheimer’s, sickle-cell anemia, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, neuropathy, spinal cord disease or severe injury as well as chronic medical conditions or treatments that produce severe nausea, cachexia or wasting, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms or chronic pain.
Registered patients would be subject to purchase limits that would restrict them to no more than one “medical cannabis equivalency unit” per day, which the bill defines as 3.5 grams of cannabis flower, one gram of concentrate or up to 100 milligrams of THC in infused products. While those limits are significantly lower than in most states where cannabis is legal for medical patients, Reeves has said the program should allow only half those amounts.
The bill does include slightly lower total monthly limits for patients, however, reducing what had been four ounces per month in a draft version of the legislation last year down to 3.5 ounces in the current measure.
Patients or caretakers would be forbidden from growing their own cannabis under the proposal. Products from state-licensed companies, meanwhile, would be limited to 30 percent THC for cannabis flower and 60 percent for concentrates. Medical marijuana would be taxed at a wholesale rate of 5 percent, and purchases would also be subject to state sales tax.
Smoking and vaping cannabis would remain illegal in public and in motor vehicles, and patients would still be prohibited from driving while under the influence.
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The legislation would task the Mississippi Department of Health to oversee the new industry, with help from the state Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture and Commerce. It would also establish a nine-member advisory committee to advise on issues such as patient access and industry safety.
Licensing of cannabis businesses other than dispensaries — including cultivators, processors, transporters, disposal entities, testing labs and research facilities — would begin 120 days after the bill’s passage, with the first licenses issued about a month after that. The dispensary licensing process would kick off 150 days after passage, with the first licenses coming a month later. That would mean the program could be up and running, at least in limited form, by the end of this year.
The bill as introduced would impose no numerical cap on licensed businesses.
Cities, counties and other localities could impose zoning and other restrictions. Businesses may also have to get approval from local authorities to operate.
In general, local governments could not ban medical cannabis businesses outright or “make their operation impracticable,” the bill says, although a separate provision would allow local governments to opt out of the program altogether within 90 days of the bill’s passage. In such cases, citizens could then petition to put the question to a vote.
Blackwell successfully fought to shoot down several proposed amendments to the legislation at a committee hearing on Wednesday. On Thursday, colleagues on the Senate floor brought several more.
Sen. Barbara Blackmon (D), who introduced two of the committee amendments that were rejected, raised them again on the Senate floor Thursday. One would allow outdoor cannabis cultivation, and the other would express the state’s intent to advance the interests of historically underserved communities, including those “adversely affected by poverty and inequality.” Senators voted down the first, and the second was ruled to be not germane to the cannabis bill.
Blackmon brought back the equity amendment in a different form later on during the floor session, this time focused specifically on cannabis licensing to ensure the amendment was germane. Black people represent more than 40 percent of the state’s population, Blackmon noted, but control only 18 percent of the state’s economy. “We can make certain that all of our people have opportunities,” she said. Senators voted down the amendment.
A third floor amendment, from Sen. Derrick Simmons (D), would have adjusted the state’s process for expunging cannabis-related convictions for activities that would be legal after the bill’s passage. Specifically, it would allow a person who obtains a medical medical marijuana card to petition a court to have their cannabis-related conviction expunged immediately, rather than after a five-year waiting period as the state’s current expungement process dictates.
Blackwell said he liked the idea but nevertheless urged a no vote. He suggested Simmons instead introduce the change in a standalone bill.
Lawmakers also defeated an amendment from Sen. Juan Barnett (D) that would have shortened the timeline for a popular vote in localities that choose to opt out of the medical marijuana program.
Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R) brought a floor amendment that would strike the entirety of the legislation and replace it with a more restrictive system that she described as “a true medicinal bill.” Among other limitations, it would ban the smoking of medical marijuana and set strict limits on dosages and potency.
Patients would be limited to small amounts of cannabis unless they had a terminal illness, and those under 18 would be limited to THC potency of less than 3 percent. Pharmacists at a specialty pharmacy, rather than a dispensary, would have to provide the drug. The amendment would also have given state universities what Hill called “first right of refusal” to manufacture marijuana, saying schools “are probably better equipped to get this thing up and running than anybody else.”
“I don’t feel like I will get this strike-all passed, but I felt compelled and convicted to offer an alternative to the body…that actually is a medical program,” Hill said, “not something that’s smoking and candies and brownies that’s passed off as medical.”
Blackwell said he was “overwhelmed” by the amendment and didn’t know how to respond to it. “If you want to kill the program, a medical cannabis program, I’d encourage you to vote for Sen. Hill’s amendment.”
Lawmakers shot down the amendment on a 6–40 vote.
The Senate did approve a minor amendment from Blackwell that the senator said fixed a drafting error.
For much of last year, it appeared lawmakers were set to pass a medical marijuana bill during a special legislative session, but the governor ultimately decided against calling the special session after reaching an impasse with lawmakers. Lawmakers who supported legalization said at the time that responsibility for the failure rested with Reeves.
“We have worked long hours on this,” Rep. Lee Yancey (R), who has been working with Blackwell on the House side, said in October. “We are ready to have a special session. We have the votes to pass this. An overwhelming number in the House and Senate are ready to pass this, and we have a majority of people in Mississippi who voted for us to pass this.
“If there is any further delay, that will be squarely on the shoulders of the governor, rather than the Legislature.”
Later that month, Reeves dodged questions from patient advocates about why he’d failed to call the special session.
In late December, with this year’s regular session approaching, he said on social media that he had “repeatedly told the members of the Legislature that I am willing to sign a bill that is truly medical marijuana,” but stressed that there should be “reasonable restrictions.”
“There is one remaining point in question that is VERY important: how much marijuana any one individual can get in any given day,” he wrote, doing back-of-the-envelope math to argue that the system would lead to “1.2 billion legal joints.”
While Reeves said he would consider rejecting the bill over possession limits, Sen. Brice Wiggins (R), chairman of the Judiciary Committee Division A, said it wouldn’t surprise him if the legislature were to override the governor if he chooses to veto the bill.
“I would hate for Governor Reeves to have any veto overridden because, like I said, I’ve worked with him on many different things,” Wiggins said late last month. “But the reality is is that Initiative 65 passed with close to 70 percent of the vote. And the legislature spent all summer working on this and have listened to the people.”
Blackwell tried to make a point to the governor about purchase limits last week, when he brought hemp to Reeves’s office to give an idea of the amounts allowed under the bill. “I took samples to show him what an ounce actually looks like—what 3.5 grams actually looks like,” the senator said.
In an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Blackwell described the meeting as cordial but acknowledged there was little willingness to compromise on key issues. “I thought it went well. [The governor] was receptive, appreciative of the meeting. Hopefully we moved the bar a little bit closer to an agreement,” Blackwell said. “He was non-committal, so they’re going to think about what we said and get back with us.”
A poll released in June found that a majority of Mississippi voters support legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, with 63 percent saying they want the legislature to pass a bill that mirrors the ballot measure that was nullified by the Supreme Court.
Key hearing begins in $600 million lawsuit against marijuana MSO Acreage
A New York state judge started hearing a case Tuesday on whether a Syracuse investor group can proceed with a $600 million lawsuit against marijuana multistate operator Acreage Holdings and others over a medical cannabis license.
The lawsuit, originally filed in 2018, alleges that Acreage and others engaged in a scheme to deprive the investor group, EPMMNY, out of a 25% interest and management role in the operation, NYCanna, according to Syracuse.com.
Acreage, which filed a motion to dismiss the case, didn’t immediately respond to an MJBizDaily request for comment.
But the New York-based MSO said in regulatory filings that it “intends to vigorously defend this action, which the company firmly believes is without merit.”
A judge in the state Supreme Court in New York City has scheduled several days of hearings over the next week to determine whether to allow the lawsuit to move forward, Syracuse.com reported.
The lawsuit also has potential implications for Canadian-based Canopy Growth’s agreement to acquire Acreage, conditioned on federal legalization in the U.S.
EPMMNY is seeking to prevent Canopy from acquiring the New York license, according to Syracuse.com.
Acreage has a prime position in New York’s potentially massive marijuana market.
The company has one of only 10 medical marijuana licenses, each of which is vertically integrated.
In addition, New York legalized recreational marijuana last year and is now preparing for the launch of what is projected to be a multibillion-dollar adult-use industry.
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EPMMNY claims in the lawsuit that it played a key role in obtaining the MMJ license.
The suit seeks $200 million as well as $400 million in punitive damages and control of the New York license, according to Syracuse.com.
Israeli cannabis company IMC Holdings appoints Rinat Efrima as CEO
IMC Holdings, the Israeli subsidiary of IM Cannabis Corp., hired Rinat Efrima as its new chief executive officer, the company announced.
IM Cannabis, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, is an international medical and recreational cannabis company.
Efrima will join IMC Holdings in the first quarter of 2022, according to a news release.
Previously, Efrima held positions at quartz-countertop maker Caesarstone and personal-care company Kimberly-Clark Corp.
Additionally, Yael Harrosh was promoted to global chief legal and operations officer, effective immediately.
Efrima and Harrosh will report to Oren Shuster, who remains the CEO of IM Cannabis.
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For the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2021, IMC Holdings reported sales of 14.4 million Canadian dollars ($11.5 million), more than double the year-earlier revenue figure of CA$5.9 million.
Revenue by geography in IM’s latest quarter was:
- CA$7.2 million in Israel.
- CA$6.4 million in Canada.
- CA$888,000 in Germany.
Erika2Santos, Motor Fundamental para las Mujeres del Freestyle: ‘Si Ellos se Cansan de Escucharlo, Imagina Nosotras de Vivirlo’
Es rapera y freestyler, ha participado cuatro veces en Red Bull: Batalla de los Gallos -la competencia de estilo libre más importante- pero Erika Dos Santos es, fundamentalmente, un motor para otras mujeres. “Siempre voy a dejar el pie trabando la puerta: pasen chavalas, aquí entran todas”, asegura.
“Intento que cada chica que veo o los chicos que son tímidos se metan”. Además de ser una referente dentro del freestyle, Erika también participó en proyectos sociales a través del rap y talleres para adolescentes en riesgo de exclusión social.
La importancia de los referentes
Con origen en Cabo Verde pero radicada en España, la presencia de Erika2Santos arriba del escenario implicó que las mujeres se vean representadas donde, históricamente, habían sido una minoría.
“Si solamente hay una chica y el mensaje que estás mandando en la batalla es ‘no te voy a follar ni con un palo’, entiendo que muchas no se quieran meter para que las traten como objetos sexuales”.
El freestyle tuvo un crecimiento abrupto a partir del 2016. A muchos de los nuevos ídolos, que antes eran chicos rapeando en una plaza con amigos, les costó dimensionar el alcance de sus dichos: “Cuando comencé me gustaba mucho Zasko, hasta que vi que en una entrevista le preguntaron por qué creía que las chicas no rapeaban. Yo estaba detrás de la pantalla esperando algo bacano y dijo ‘son malísimas’. Fue algo que me llegó. ¿Cómo vas a querer subir si la persona que tienes de referente ya te echa para abajo?”
Por eso, la rapera española tuvo que buscar inspiración en otro lado. “Mi referente es Nicki Minaj. Me gustaba mucho su actitud, su seguridad, su flow, cómo baila y cómo la criticaban de duro y mandaba a los haters a la mierda”.
Al principio, Erika no entendía las letras, pero el mensaje de la reina del rap no es lo que dice sino lo que hace: enalteció la cultura negra en medio del pop blanco yankee.
—¿Sentiste como un peso el hecho de ser una referente a la hora de rapear?
—A la larga sí, porque llega un momento en el que te dicen “ya sabemos que eres una piba, no lo repitas”. Yo no repetiría si no siguieran hablando de lo mismo. Cuando comienzas estás súper a gusto porque ves muchas chicas que se sienten representadas o se empiezan a animar, pero cuando ya te meten en un rol salirte de ahí, pues, quizá sea un pelín más complicado.
“Por eso tiene muchísimo mérito lo que está haciendo Marithea. No se mete en el tema y si un chaval lo hace, ella lo esquiva. Ole los ovarios de Marithea de pasar una regional con 16 chavales, una nacional y llegar a una internacional. Es una locura”, reconoce la MC.
La mujer como sujeto político
“Conocí a La Joaqui este año y es un amor de persona. La llevo muy marcada, ha sido una de las mejores experiencias de este año. Me encanta su acento ‘re cheto mal’”, comenta imitando a su colega.
Erika conoció a la rapera argentina en el marco del encuentro que impulsó Red Bull entre las mujeres más destacadas del panorama.
—¿Cómo viviste el encuentro?
—Me emocionó mucho. Nos juntamos las chicas de diferentes países para nutrirnos mutuamente y demostrar que hay mujeres que les gusta también la cultura del rap y que lo hacen de puta madre… lo hacemos [risas].
Cuando la camada de Erika comenzó a rapear hicieron -sin querer- de la mujer un sujeto político. Hoy en día, el camino recorrido hizo que mute la necesidad de las mujeres dentro del freestyle. “Mi intención siempre ha sido que más chicas se metan hasta el punto de naturalizarlo”, reconoce la rapera española. “Pero aunque yo no quisiera resaltar, resaltaba. En una batalla siempre van contra el diferente”.
—¿Hoy crees que el panorama sigue igual?
—Ahora llegó el momento en el que entiendo que es cansador, pero si ellos se cansan de escucharlo, imagina nosotras de vivirlo.
Contenido relacionado: Conocé a Brasita, la Campeona Invicta de la Primera Liga de Freestyle Femenino
Según Erika, en las batallas hay dos opciones para las chicas: o ser lo que a él le gusta o ser lo que a él no le gusta. “Muchas veces los chicos dicen cosas que se les han inculcado desde pequeños o que han escuchado de sus colegas y les puede parecer gracioso”.
“Hay cosas se siguen diciendo con total libertad, pero quizá el público ya no lo festeja tanto o ya está muy visto. Empiezan a valorar mucho más el ingenio, es decir ‘gorda de mierda’ lo puede decir cualquiera”, agrega.
Para la MC, las rimas personales son parte del show. “Muchas veces en batallas me tiraron por ser negra y el rap empezó por los negros. Al fin y al cabo es una batalla, lo que te digan no es un problema si luego lo sabes responder. Así es el juego”.
Pero la libertad de expresión tiene un límite: “Yo estoy ahí para que tú me digas lo que se te dé la gana, siempre y cuando te metas contra mí persona. En plan ‘¿qué haces aquí? Vete a fregar’ Tío, ¿tengo que fregar porque soy Erika o porque soy mujer? Entonces ya nos están metiendo conmigo, te estás metiendo con todas las chavalas”.
Ser feliz como proyecto
—¿Vamos a volverte a ver en las batallas?
—Me gustaría volver, tal vez ir más lento. Soy consciente de que tengo que ponerme las pilas, quiero volver a tener esa autoestima de creerme lo que digo.
Hoy en día Erika sigue siendo un motor para muchas chicas y chicos que dan sus primeros pasos en la música. “Tengo un sitio en Madrid donde busco artistas. La gente se pone a hacer freestyle, cyphers, retos o micro libre”.
Contenido relacionado: Hablamos con la Rapera Sofía Gabanna: ‘El Rap Es una Forma de Vida, No Es una Moda’
En paralelo a sus proyectos profesionales, la rapera tiene una meta personal: “Ahora mi proyecto de vida es ser feliz, quiero aprender y desaprender muchas cosas”.
La búsqueda de Erika parte de estar trabajando en la floristería de un cementerio. “Estoy aprendiendo bastante sobre cosas que son más tabúes, como la muerte. Me está tocando más de cerca verlo vivirlo”.
“Despierta, que en la vida hoy estás aquí y mañana, no”, concluye Erika2Santos.
Foto de portada: Nerea Coll
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