Medical-cannabis patient Becky Henderson suffered a spinal-cord injury in a car wreck when she was 21 years old, leaving the lower half of her body paralyzed. The Gulfport, Miss., resident gets around in a motorized wheelchair and can only leave her house a couple of times a month.

During a meeting of the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee on Dec. 20, 2023, Henderson proposed a series of changes to the state’s marijuana program, including suggesting that the State allow dispensaries to adopt patient delivery services and drive-throughs for those with mobility challenges. Telehealth should be available for all doctor’s visits for medical-cannabis patients, including the first appointment, she added.

“People who have mobility issues are hesitant to join the program because they can’t get out of the house and most people don’t have a caregiver,” she told the committee. “Like, I’m very, very blessed (to have a caregiver). Why join a program you can’t utilize?”

During the meeting, committee members approved a number of recommendations to lawmakers, including to allow dispensaries to deliver to caregiver facilities like hospitals, nursing homes and hospice settings.

The Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee is made of nine members who must meet at least twice a year, Section 41-137-63 of Mississippi’s Constitution says. It has representatives from the Mississippi Department of Revenue, Mississippi State Department of Health and people who are involved in the medical-cannabis industry.

The committee cannot change laws about the medical-cannabis program, but it can make recommendations to the Legislature for state leaders to draft and pass legislation.

“I know there’s some work being done on a bill that would make some revisions and updates … I do think (the Legislature) will take those (recommendations) seriously,” committee chairman Jeff Webb told the Crirec on Jan. 11, 2024.

Committee Recommends Cannabis for Insomnia, Anxiety

Since Becky Henderson can only get out of the house a few times a month, she has trouble picking up her cannabis; state law says a patient can only purchase a week’s supply at a time. She told the committee members that patients should be allowed to buy their monthly allotment of cannabis at one time, instead of week-by-week. The committee agreed, adopting a resolution to recommend allowing patients to pick up one-month supplies.

The committee also passed resolutions calling for the State to allow prospective medical-cannabis patients who are homebound to have doctors’ appointments over telehealth for their initial visit and for all medical-cannabis patients to have access to telehealth for their mandatory six-month check-ups.

Jeff Webb standing in his office
Mississippi Medical-Cannabis Advisory Committee Chairman Jeff Webb said on Jan. 11, 2024, that he hopes the Legislature will take the committee’s recommendations seriously when drafting legislation this session. Photo courtesy Jeff Webb

The advisory committee recommended adding anxiety and insomnia to the list of more than 20 conditions that qualify a person to be in the medical-cannabis program. Members approved creating regulations for “intoxicating hemp products” that are sold at gas stations, vape shops and CBD stores, Jeff Webb said.

“It gets kind of convoluted with what’s legal and what’s not with hemp,” he said. “Pure hemp and CBD is fine nationwide, it’s just when it starts getting infused or getting more synthetic that there’s problems.”

The committee’s membership also grows if the Legislature agrees, Webb said.

“I was really excited that the committee and Sen. (Kevin) Blackwell seemed receptive to maybe giving the committee a little more ability to do some of the things it’s tasked to do, which would hopefully be a modest budget of some sort and then maybe add a few more members,” Webb said.

Money for the budget would come from the medical-cannabis program, not taxpayer dollars, the chairman clarified.

Some Doctors Won’t Treat Medical-Cannabis Patients

Becky Henderson and her mother, Sherry, made a three-hour drive to share their stories and advocate on behalf of patients at the committee’s most recent meeting in Jackson, Miss. She said she was shocked to see the committee make so many recommendations at the meeting.

“I’m glad they listened because it’s needed. There’s a lot of patients in the state that are hurting right now, and they need relief, and the fact that doctors aren’t treating them simply because they’re cannabis patients is awful,” Henderson told the Crirec on Jan. 3.

Jeff Webb said before Henderson spoke that the board’s agenda included several items that she ended up discussing, but her testimony may have helped sway votes.

Henderson said she has faced discrimination from palliative-care doctors because she is a medical-cannabis patient. The palliative-care doctors do not prescribe her cannabis nor do they have to be part of the medical-cannabis program, but she said three palliative-care doctors turned her away because she uses cannabis to manage her pain.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against cannabis patients because they don’t like cannabis. We’re not asking them to participate in the program; we’re asking them to treat their patients,” she said at the Dec. 20 meeting.

Mississippi Cannabis Patients Alliance Angie Calhoun agreed with Henderson and said doctors must not discriminate against medical-cannabis patients.

“A lot of those pain-management physicians are cutting patients off immediately if they even mention they want to participate in the medical cannabis program,” she said at the Dec. 20 meeting.

But Dr. Randy Easterling, an addiction and family-medicine physician, told Henderson that doctors have the right to turn away any patient they wish and they do not have to prescribe any medicine to patients if they do not want to.

“You’re free to go somewhere else, but the government doesn’t make me use the medicine that they want me to use,” he said at the Dec. 20 meeting.

Henderson: Still More Work to be Done

Becky Henderson spends time researching the benefits of medical cannabis and credits the documentary “Weed the People” by Ricki Lake for educating her on the benefits of Rick Simpson Oil—or cannabis oil—for cancer patients and people with anxiety. She told the committee that cannabis products with higher levels of RSO and a 90% THC level for concentrates would be more beneficial for patients like herself.

Her mother, Sherry, also has a medical-cannabis patient card and is her primary caregiver, but she cannot pick up her cannabis under state law. Henderson argued that members of the same household should be able to pick up one another’s cannabis.

“My mother can pick up my medication from any pharmacy with no ID,” she told committee members. “It doesn’t matter what that medication is.”

The committee did not make any recommendations that members of the same household could pick up medical cannabis for each other. Members made no moves to increase THC or RSO percentages in cannabis products.

Henderson has also been advocating for patients to be able to grow their own cannabis at home with approval from the State, but the committee did not discuss approving a home-grow program.

“Cannabis is still way too expensive here for people who have limited resources. I believe home grow is a phenomenal solution,” she told committee members.

Jeff Webb said that since Mississippi’s medical-cannabis program was so new, he did not know if home grow would gain traction in the Legislature and approval from Gov. Tate Reeves just yet.

“But you know it’s a young program; it just takes time to work through some of those things,” he said.

Mississippi’s Growing Medical-Cannabis Industry

The Mississippi medical-cannabis program has 31,305 patients, 189 caregivers, 313 dispensaries, 189 dispensaries, 67 cultivators, seven processors and two testing labs as of Dec. 20, 2023, committee chairman Jeff Webb said. The state has made over $37 million in medical-cannabis sales and over $11 million in application fees as of Dec. 20.

Patients’ medical-cannabis monthly and weekly allotments are currently measured in Mississippi Medical Cannabis Equivalency Units. One MMCEU is equal to 3.5 grams or an eighth of an ounce, but the committee suggested switching from MMCEUs to grams. Patients can have six MMCEUs weekly, or 21 grams, and 24 MMCEUs monthly, or 84 grams.

Legislators could change aspects of the medical-cannabis program each year if they wanted to, which Mississippi Independent Cannabis Association Executive Director Mike Watkins said works well in Mississippi.

“One of the reasons why we’re happy (medical cannabis) is in the law is because we can revisit things every year and change things,” he told the Crirec on Jan. 8. “The wonderful thing about this process is that we get to adapt and change with the growth of the market.”

Awards:

2024 Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) Awards, Cannabis Coverage, Finalist

Reporter Heather Harrison graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in Communication in 2023. She worked at The Reflector student newspaper for three years, starting as a staff writer, then the news editor before becoming the editor-in-chief. During her time at The Reflector, Heather won 13 awards for her multi-media journalism work.

In her free time, Heather likes to walk her dog, Finley, read books, and listen to Taylor Swift. Heather lives in Starkville, where she has spent the past four years. She is a Hazlehurst, Mississippi, native.