An amendment to Mississippi’s medical cannabis act passed by the House would keep reports of marijuana businesses breaking regulations from the public — but the health department has already put a freeze on releasing those documents before any changes to the law have been made.
Mississippi Today filed a public records request seeking copies of reports regarding three cultivators that have been cited by the Department of Health’s cannabis program last week. One of the cultivators faced having massive amounts of his cannabis destroyed in penalties.
Department of Health spokesperson Liz Sharlot responded to Mississippi Today’s request saying the agency is “withholding all documents in our ongoing investigative files” pending a decision from the state’s Ethics Commission on “certain exemptions.”
Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood, however, said his office currently has no complaint open regarding whether investigation reports and other related materials from the medical cannabis office are subject to public record laws under the current cannabis act.
Mississippi Today asked the Department of Health what language in the current cannabis bill pointed to possible exemptions. The agency did not immediately respond Thursday.
Mississippi Today had already received citation records regarding Mockingbird Cannabis through a public records request in the fall. A Jackson-based blog – Jackson Jambalaya – posted a copy of records it obtained from the health department in December showing cultivator Southern Sky faced the possibility of having to destroy upwards of $700,000 in marijuana plants for not tagging them properly.
Mississippi Today was denied copies of that same report; a copy of the corrective action plan made with Mockingbird; and the citations made against a third cultivator.
Rep. Lee Yancey’s proposed amendments to the cannabis act were passed in the House on Wednesday. Among his suggested tweaks was explicit language to keep investigative reports in-house at the health department.
“Any investigation, fine, suspension or revocation by a licensing agency shall be considered confidential” and exempt from the state’s public record laws, the amendment says.
Yancey did not return a request for comment.
The decision to keep these reports out of the public eye is at odds with what the Board of Health’s own medical marijuana program committee recently recommended. Head of the committee, Jim Perry, said he hoped the program would post enforcement actions it has taken to its website during a meeting on Jan. 26.
“Other regulatory agencies … they post online when there is an enforcement action,” Perry said at the meeting. “As much as we can, we should err on the side of transparency… because it will tell people what they can learn from the lessons of others.”
Perry said it could help ease the onslaught of questions the health department is regularly receiving related to interpreting regulations.
“I think that if there is a corrective action plan, it should be out there,” Perry said.
A recent Mississippi Today investigation found that the cannabis office is still dealing with a massive backlog in applications and regularly takes weeks to answer questions. Cultivators told Mississippi Today that the type of structures being approved by the health department to grow marijuana were not being consistently regulated.
Perry said posting the actions the agency takes to correct businesses in the program would also show that it is treating everyone fairly.
The Senate must pass the cannabis act amendments before the bill is sent to the governor to be signed.