The Panelist Perspective: Pot Goes Public

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By Alexander Norris

About Dr. Daniel Edney

Dr. Daniel Edney became State Health Officer in August 2022 after serving as Deputy State Health Officer and Chief Medical Officer for the agency. Before joining the Mississippi State Department of Health, Dr. Edney was in private practice in Vicksburg for more than 30 years. He received his M.D. from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine with a residency in the University of Virginia’s internal medicine program. He holds board certifications in Internal Medicine and Addiction Medicine and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

Q&A:

To start, could you please talk a little bit about your role as the Deputy State Health Officer?

The State Health Officer is mainly the primary public health physician for the state with a lot of statutory responsibilities related to public health and the safety and welfare of the Mississippi public in an official capacity. But, also the State Health Officer serves as the executive director for the Mississippi state Department of Health, which is, a large state agencies that has a lot of regulatory responsibility in many different capacities.

In your opinion how is Mississippi’s Health Department managing the medical marijuana program?

When you look at the timeline we were given versus how medical programs were set up in other states, even surrounding states. We had four months to get the heavy lifting done versus Louisiana; I think they took three years to work up their program. With the statutory timelines that we had, I think my team did an amazing job to meet all of those timelines and make sure that the program became available to the public, you know, as soon as it was reasonably possible to do so.

How has medical cannabis production and distribution progressed In Mississippi since its legalization?

Well, it’s going extremely well; we have multiple cultivators all over the state, ranging from micro cultivators that have fairly small specialty-type growers all the way up to our tier-six cultivators that have over 100,000 square feet of cultivation, space, and everything in between. Everything with the program is fully operational in terms of licensed entities that are required from cultivators, processors, transportation, testing, and waste disposable all the way through the dispensaries. We have plenty of products flowing through the system every day. So multiple harvests have occurred around the state and have moved through testing, processing, and entering the dispensaries.

What are some of the pros and cons of medical cannabis from a health stand point?

Our program is too young for us to be able to report any data that’s part of what we’ll be doing. We actually have epidemiologists in the program to monitor the data, looking at outcomes, and ensuring that we’re protecting public safety. But when you look at medical cannabis around the country, you know, it is clearly serving a positive function for those who are sick and suffering with terminal illnesses, those who have painful conditions that may not be terminal but have not responded to other types of medical care and you know, and do respond to treatment. The problem is that marijuana has been a schedule one drug at the federal level, which means you can’t do the typical type of medical studies that we would for other medications, like double-blinded control. Randomized trials are the most powerful studies that tell you if there’s benefit or harm with certain treatments. Cannabis is not benign. We have people and treatment facilities all over the state for cannabis use disorder; we have those suffering from cannabis induced psychosis. It does have addictive potential. It does have dependency syndrome. So people just have to be aware of that, and part of our training of providers is to make sure they understand the risk as well as the potential benefits.

What are your predictions for the future of the medical cannabis industry in Mississippi?

I think the program will be successful, just like it is in other states. I think it will continue to mature and grow. I think it’s going to take some time. There are those who would be thoughtful prescribers and other providers that, you know, they’re just learning about it; they have to go through their training. They’re not sure if they want to participate yet, but I think more will continue to sign up for the program as we see them doing. I think we’ll see a lot more patients as the program matures. And you know, there are a lot of patients that are not going to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes, but they would use edibles or, you know, some other non-inhalational form. As those products become more mature in the marketplace, I think you’ll see more people taking advantage of it in an appropriate fashion. The program is very fresh and very young; it just needs some time to grow.