Northern and western regions of the U.S. have propelled the national marijuana reform movement in recent years. From the passing of the Rhode Island Cannabis Act to new developments by The New York Cannabis Control Board, northern states continue to lead recent charges in marijuana legalization. But for a few exceptions, the Southern states continue to lag woefully behind.
Southern states have displayed greater resistance to marijuana reform than their northern counterparts. But as the demand for cannabis legalization grows nationally, southern state legislators are taking small steps toward alleviating marijuana restrictions. Read on to explore the South’s stance on the legalization of marijuana state by state.
In May 2021, Alabama legislators established The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate the state’s medical cannabis program. As a part of this regulation, commission members oversee the licensing of facilities that process, transport, test, or dispense medical cannabis.
The Commission’s initiative to legalize medical marijuana is still underway, as there is no definite date for when medical cannabis will become available. However, starting in September 2022, the Commission will begin accepting license applications for those running an integrated facility, cultivator processors, secure transporters, state testing laboratories, and dispensaries.
In 2016, state lawmakers established the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission (“AMMC”) under the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. The AMMC administers and regulates the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities and works with Arkansas’ Alcoholic Beverage Control to enforce the amendment’s requirements.
Though recreational marijuana use is illegal in Arkansas, the state hosts many vocal supporters. Advocates have formed initiatives and compiled thousands of signatures for recreational cannabis use to the point where there is a chance the issue may appear on the state’s November ballo
In Florida, recreational cannabis is illegal. Any amount of cannabis possession in the state could result in jail time. Additionally, selling or delivering any kind or amount of marijuana products is considered illicit activity and, depending on the amount or the nature of the product, could be a misdemeanor or felony. However, medical marijuana became legal in 2014 after a statewide referendum.
In 2015, Georgia established a Low THC Oil Patient Registry for patients and caregivers eligible under Georgia House Bill 1. Under this registry, qualified users would be granted legal possession of cannabis oil with THC levels of 5% or lower. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that the oil became legally accessible.
In 2019, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 324, creating the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. To push forward the state’s cannabis reform, this Commission would oversee the regulated licensing of limited, Georgia-based cultivation, production, manufacturing, and sale of low-THC oil, as well as regulate dispensing to registered patients on the Low-THC Oil Registry. However, after three years, the Commission has yet to approve a producing or dispensing license.
The Commission began accepting applications for production licenses in 2021. However, after selecting a small pool of recipients, the Commission received backlash from losing bidders, resulting in many protests and administrative appeals. No licenses have been issued yet, as the Commission must first resolve appeals from losing bidders. Meanwhile, the application process for a dispensary license has yet to commence.
Louisiana legislators created a framework for dispensing medical marijuana in 2015 with the signing of House Bill 149, which amended certain criminal consequences for marijuana possession. Since then, the state’s medical cannabis program has expanded with the signing of House Bill 819 in August 2020, which permits state-licensed physicians to recommend medical marijuana for specific conditions.
In June 2021, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed House Bill 652, reducing the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. HB 652 punishes possession of 14 grams of cannabis with a maximum $100 fine instead of a prison sentence — a massive stride for marijuana reform in the state
Mississippi became the 37th state to legalize medical marijuana in February 2022. The Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act distributes licensing jurisdiction between the Mississippi State Department of Health (“MSDH”) and the Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR). According to the MSDH, cannabis products will be available to patients in late 2022. Doctors or businesses will distribute these products with state-issued licenses, which require 30 days for approval by the MDOR.
North Carolina has taken steps toward marijuana reform with recent developments in the passing of the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (“Senate Bill 711”). In June 2022, the North Carolina Senate approved the bill, moving it forward to the state’s House of Representatives. If approved by the House and the Governor, the bill would allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with qualifying conditions, including epilepsy, sickle cell anemia, HIV, and more.
Days after SB 711 received approval from the state Senate, the state’s House ruled in favor of Senate Bill 448, which legalizes THC medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Given this notion, there’s a possibility that the Compassionate Care Act could be prematurely overruled by the House, as the bill does not mention FDA approval for the legalization of medical marijuana.
Like North Carolina, South Carolina has experienced some regression in its efforts to legalize medical marijuana. In February 2022, the state Senate approved the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (“Senate Bill 150”), permitting physicians to prescribe medical cannabis for severe conditions.
In May 2022, the House ruled the bill out of order for its proposed sales tax on marijuana. Advocates for the initiative will have to wait for the start of the next legislative session in 2023 to resurrect the bill and continue efforts for state marijuana reform.
Tennessee legislators have yet to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use. The most recent attempt to legalize medical cannabis was Senate Bill 854. This bill, proposed as the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act, would allow patients to legally obtain medical cannabis and establish a system to tax and regulate it. However, the bill failed to pass through the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2021.
In Texas, recreational use of marijuana remains illegal. However, Texas continues to make strides toward decriminalization and legalization. The Texas Compassionate Use Act (“Senate Bill 339”), for instance, was enacted in 2015, requiring the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) to establish a secure registry for approved physicians to treat patients with low-THC cannabis. In 2019, Texas lawmakers expanded the Texas Compassionate Use Program (“TCUP”) to include a more extensive list of qualifying medical conditions, such as incurable neurodegenerative diseases. The TCUP was again expanded in 2021, further augmenting the list of qualifying conditions and increasing the maximum THC level to 1% by weight.
Business owners and consumers in the cannabis community should be aware of the varying legal status of marijuana across different states. Trusted attorney Chelsie Spencer can provide this necessary insight into the hemp, CBD, and cannabis industries. Contact Ritter Spencer Cheng or give us a call at 214.295.5070 for more information.