There is finally some good news for proponents on medical marijuana being legalized in the state of Mississippi.
Mississippi lawmakers are trying to reach a consensus on a medical marijuana program after the state Supreme Court shot down one overwhelmingly passed by voters last year with ballot Initiative 65. The state Supreme Court ruled in May that the medical marijuana initiative and the entire ballot initiative process is invalid.
Legislators from both state houses are expected to begin meeting next week to try to draft a medical marijuana compromise bill, and both sides say they believe the governor could call a special session in August for lawmakers to pass such a measure.
Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, who is leading the Senate’s efforts, on Wednesday repeated his expectation that an agreement can be reached soon, and that a special session could be called by mid-August.
Rep. Lee Yancey, who is drafting a House bill, said, “I don’t see why not, as long as we come to an agreement soon,” on an August session. Both Yancey and Blackwell said they’ve had informal discussions, but plan to start getting down to brass tacks next week.
While this is welcome news for many after the overwhelming vote in November by the people of Mississippi, there are still hurdles to overcome in negotiations on a medical marijuana program. Some lawmakers in both the House and Senate continue to question issues such as how strict regulations should be, whether smoking of cannabis should be allowed, whether to allow outdoor growing or only indoor, and whether to allow cities to “opt-out” of allowing dispensaries or other cannabis businesses.
“Our position is different from the Senate position, but there are similarities,” Yancey said. “… I think the House position is much closer to Initiative 65, that voters passed, than the Senate position.”
Blackwell said the Senate’s goal also is to honor the spirit of Initiative 65, but he said his starting point is the last measure the Senate passed last session that died in the House. Some Initiative 65 proponents decried that measure as too strict and feared it would not allow Mississippi entrepreneurs to get into the business because of relatively high licensing fees and regulations.
“We are focused on the business end of this being a free-market approach,” Yancey said. “We don’t want to limit the number of licenses or anything like that. I believe we would probably have too many businesses in the first year, but the free market – supply and demand – would take care of that pretty quickly. As Jerry Clower used to say, everybody deserves a fighting chance.”
During this summer’s Senate hearings, particularly in discussions with leaders from other states, adult-use recreational marijuana has frequently come up.
Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said he doesn’t advocate legalizing recreational use, but he says lawmakers should be transparent with Mississippians that a push for it is an inevitable next step from medical legalization.
Andrew Brisbo, director of the marijuana regulatory agency in Michigan, which has legal medical and recreational use, told Mississippi lawmakers, “It’s reasonable to assume it will morph into adult-use at some point. That’s inevitable.”
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