Mississippi legislative negotiators are working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one canceled by the state Supreme Court. And they now say they’re close to a deal. According to the lawmakers, that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month, reports Mississippi Today.
“I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said GOP Sen. Kevin Blackwell, the Southaven Republican who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. “We’re very, very close.” Blackwell said.
“I would be surprised if there were not a special session soon, but that’s not my call,” said Brandon Rep. Lee Yancey. “I think at some point soon we will be ready to say to the governor that we have something we can work with.”
Mississippi Supreme Court Canceled The People’s Votes
Mississippi lawmakers, under popular demand, are trying to reach a deal on a medical marijuana program because the state Supreme Court shot down one overwhelmingly passed by voters last year.
The state Supreme Court ruled in May that the medical marijuana initiative and the entire ballot initiative process is invalid. Interestingly, the Court left previous ballot initiatives intact — even those passed under the same process.
Gov. Tate Reeves has sole authority to call lawmakers into a special session. He has said he would do so for a medical marijuana bill. But he refused to do so before the House and Senate have general agreement, to avoid a long, drawn out session.
Blackwell and Yancey had previously estimated a session could be called by mid-August. They said that might be pushed back, but that having one before the end of the month is still doable.
No Details Available; ‘Better’ Program Promised
Neither Blackwell nor Yancey would provide specifics of agreements they’ve reached on taxation, licensing and other crucial details.
“I think we owe it to other legislators to let them have a chance to view and vet what we have worked on to this point,” Yancey said. “Each of us will have to get consensus to get 3/5 passage in both houses. We are cognizant of how important this is, that there are those our there who need this medication. And we are trying to put together a program we can be proud of. We know that we will have to tweak it year to year, but trying to get it as good as we can on the first push.”
“They don’t have a program right now, and I think we are going to give them a program that is better than the one from Initiative 65,” Blackwell claimed.
Advocate: ‘Refreshing and Surprising’
Ken Newburger, director of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said he’s been in contact with Blackwell and Yancey. Newberger is likewise confident an agreement, and a special session, will happen soon, reports Hotty Toddy.
He said he believes lawmakers have taken input from medical marijuana advocates, patients and business leaders.
“I think that’s been the most refreshing and surprising part of this whole legislative process, has been the willingness of the legislators in both chambers to reach out to people who have been advocating it, and patients who have been advocating it for years,” Newburger said.
Newburger said his group has four main features it wants legislators to keep from the defunct Initiative 65:
- To allow broad patient access to various forms — smokable, edibles, pills, etc. — of cannabis products with varying levels of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana.
- For certification of patients to remain in the hands of doctors, not “some bureaucratic system.”
- For cultivation and dispensing of cannabis to be a “free market enterprise” that allows broad participation and doesn’t limit businesses with exorbitant fees and license costs.
- That the program be self-funded; that fees collected for the program fund it.
Newburger said he is hopeful the Legislature will work to enshrine these aspects of Initiative 65 into a new law.
Yancey said he believes the House will work to keep as closely to the voter-passed initiative as possible.