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Why medical marijuana is needed in Mississippi
1. Why do people in Mississippi need access to medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana is a safe and effective treatment option for a broad range of serious medical conditions and their symptoms, such as chronic pain. More than 2.8 million Americans are using medical marijuana in 33 states, and there is no reason to deny that same option for relief to Mississippians who are in chronic pain or suffer from other symptoms from debilitating medical conditions. These laws are working well and helping patients in other states. Mississippians with these types of medical conditions and diseases have little choice but to suffer with little or no relief, or to turn to opioids and heavy pharmaceutical drugs, which can cause dependence.
2. Is medical marijuana something that could actually be beneficial to me or my family?
In states with medical marijuana programs, medical marijuana helps many patients who suffer from chronic pain or other symptoms associated with a variety of debilitating conditions. Mississippi’s medical marijuana initiative lists the conditions for which patients will be able to qualify, and that list relies on the experiences of other states and the available medical research. The list includes epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, Crohn’s disease, ALC, and sickle-cell anemia. To see a comprehensive list of debilitating medical conditions included in the proposal, see question 59.
3. Aren’t prescription drugs just as effective?
Patients suffering from debilitating illnesses and the treatments associated with those illnesses find that medical marijuana provides relief. Available prescription drugs, like opioids, often come with far more serious side effects than medical marijuana, which are modest compared to the risks associated with many prescription drugs. Moreover, there have been no reported deaths from a marijuana overdose — unlike opioids and other dangerous medications that are prescribed every day. Also, many patients who find relief from marijuana simply do not respond to prescription medications.
4. Are there any prescription drugs that are made from marijuana?
Yes, the FDA recently approved a drug called Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy called Lennox-Gestault syndrome and Dravet syndrome. This is the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified substance derived from marijuana called CBD which is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. The FDA classifies this drug as a Schedule 5 controlled substance which is given to drugs with a proven medical use and low potential for abuse.
The FDA has previously approved 3 drugs that are made from synthetic cannabinoids, which means they are man-made and not naturally derived from the marijuana plant. Marinol and Syndros are used to treat anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS, and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment of cancer. Cesamet is used to prevent or treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Both Marinol and Cesamet have been legally available since 1985 and Syndros was approved in 2016.
5. I thought Mississippi had some type of medical marijuana program?
In 2014, Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill into law that would legalize the use of CBD oil, which is an extract of the marijuana plant, for certain kinds of medical conditions. The law was named “Harper Grace’s Law,” after a young girl who has a rare type of epilepsy that causes violent seizures. In other states, children like Harper Grace have used medical marijuana to fight seizures. However, Harper Grace has yet to receive her first dose of CBD oil from Mississippi.
The problem is that the Harper Grace Law required the CBD oil to be provided by the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi under “appropriate federal and state regulatory approval” and restricted the dispensing of CBD oil to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Due to these restrictions and difficult-to-obtain approval from the applicable federal agencies, the hospital has yet to provide any CBD oil to qualified patients. Consequently, since the passage of the law, Harper Grace, and patients like her, have yet to receive any relief in Mississippi.
UMMC announced a small clinical trial of CBD in 2018 to determine the safety and tolerability of the medication for children with severe epilepsy whose seizures are not controlled by other medications. The trial is limited to only a dozen children and does not include Harper Grace. It is a positive step for Mississippi but does not provide readily accessible CBD medication to children or any other person suffering from a debilitating medical condition outside of the trial.
6. What about the CBD that is available in some of the stores in Mississippi?
Selling CBD is currently in a legal grey area because of recent changes to federal law, an evolving position from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and differences in laws between states. CBD that is for sale in stores across Mississippi may not be legal under state law or compliant with FDA regulations, depending on where the CBD came from, in what form it is being sold, and its chemical composition.
Here is some background: CBD can be derived from either the marijuana plant or the hemp plant. Those two plants are genetic cousins and they both contain chemical compounds called cannabinoids which produce certain effects within the human body. Cannabinoids can be extracted from either plant and turned into processed products. CBD is one type of cannabinoid and it is found in both marijuana and hemp. As an aside, THC is another cannabinoid. It contains psychoactive properties and is found only in the marijuana plant. Through the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills approved by Congress, the federal government has allowed states to regulate the growing of hemp. Though Mississippi does not currently allow hemp farming or processing, many states have legalized hemp, which has resulted in CBD products that are legally available.
Producers outside of Mississippi are manufacturing CBD products from hemp and not from marijuana, and are making these hemp-derived CBD products available in some stores throughout Mississippi. However, these products are not currently regulated at the state or federal level and do not have to meet health or safety standards, obtain laboratory approval, or adhere to labeling requirements. While current law in Mississippi does not specifically address the sale of CBD products, it appears, at least for the time being, that law enforcement authorities intend to ignore the stores that are currently selling CBD.
7. If CBD is now available in Mississippi, why do we need medical marijuana?
CBD is just one specific kind of cannabinoid that is found in the marijuana plant. The marijuana plant contains over 100 cannabinoids and other chemical compounds that work in concert with each other to interact with the systems in our bodies to alleviate symptoms or the effects of debilitating medical conditions. It is the use of the whole marijuana plant, together with all of its cannabinoids that bring the most relief to patents who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions for which medical marijuana has demonstrated the ability to provide relief. Specifically, for example, CBD products do not contain THC, the cannabinoid available in marijuana that contains psychoactive properties.
Just as important, the CBD that is for sale in Mississippi may not be legal under state or federal law depending on its source, its contents, and the types of products being sold. It is possible that these retailers could be shut down at any time. Though some retailers could be selling products that are compliant, others may be selling CBD that violates FDA regulations, state law, and federal law.
Also, CBD products are not currently regulated in Mississippi nor do they have to meet labeling requirements or obtain any laboratory approval under state or federal oversight. Consequently, consumers may be purchasing products that may contain less CBD than advertised or that contain other substances in addition to CBD. A regulated medical marijuana program will ensure that qualified patients are obtaining medical marijuana in a safe and regulated manner. These products will be sold to patients at medical marijuana treatment centers that have obtained a license and meet other requirements set by the Mississippi Department of Health.
Finally, the proposed medical marijuana initiative contains legal protections for qualified patients who use the drug as certified by a physician and obtained from licensed medical marijuana treatment centers, which will be the only places medical marijuana will be sold. Those legal protections will ensure that any qualified patient, or business licensed by the Mississippi Department of Health, would not be subject to any civil or criminal sanctions. These protections are not available for people who are currently purchasing or selling the unregulated CBD products in Mississippi.
8. Has the Mississippi Legislature ever considered legalizing medical marijuana?
Over the last several years, several legislators have introduced bills to make medical marijuana legal in Mississippi. Unfortunately, none of those bills have been given a hearing or even a vote at the State Capitol.