“I took samples to show him what an ounce looks like, what 3.5 grams actually looks like.”
By Nick Judin, Mississippi Free Press
Medical marijuana, income tax reform, legislative redistribution, teacher compensation, rebuilding the ballot initiative process and more than $ 1.6 billion in federal funds from the The American Rescue Plan Act awaiting appropriation is high on the agenda for the 2022 Mississippi legislative session. Upon their return on January 4, lawmakers were faced with a massive list of priorities and a window limited to accomplish them.
Above all of this looms the ongoing wave of omicron, the most contagious stage of the pandemic to date. On the day the session broke, the Mississippi State Department of Health recorded 6,592 new cases of COVID-19, surpassing the August peak of 5,048.
Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann (R) was the first high profile infection of the legislative session. Hosemann, who had already tested positive in an earlier legislative outbreak and is fully vaccinated, has an asymptomatic case.
Of all the priorities for the near future for the short session, none have been discussed, changed, debated and recalibrated more thoroughly than the state’s long-awaited medical marijuana plan. With a favorable majority in the House and Senate, only opposition from Governor Tate Reeves (R) threatens passage of the plan.
One last meeting with the governor
Medical marijuana, which voters approved in 2020 before the entire ballot initiation process was called off in 2021, is expected to be a top priority for the legislature. After months of preparatory work, including hearings, meetings and private conversations between lawmakers, there is little room for negotiation on the details of the proposal.
On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Kevin Blackwell (right), who is the architect of the Senate-side medical marijuana bill, had a final meeting with Governor Reeves to reach agreement on final details Bill. Reeves’ opposition to the plan has gone from vague disgust to promising a veto if the bill approves recipients of medical marijuana for the amount of marijuana currently planned.
“I believe that 11 joints a day, every day, for everyone with an MJ card is too much!” And I think the potential of 100,000,000 joints PER MONTH on the streets is more of a recreation program, ”the governor wrote on social media at the end of December.
In an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Blackwell called the meeting cordial, but acknowledged that neither side was inclined to move on the bigger issues. “I thought it went well. [The governor] was receptive, enjoying the meeting. Hopefully we’ve pulled the bar a bit closer to a deal, ”Blackwell said. “He wasn’t engaged, so they’re going to think about what we said and come back with us.”
The subtleties aside, the legislative proposal so far has not given way under pressure from the governor. “We presented what we thought was reasonable,” Blackwell said. “The amount has not changed. It’s still four ounces [per month] at present. “
The Legislative Assembly’s proposal, which aims to complement Initiative 65 at large, allows physicians with a “good faith practitioner-patient relationship” to certify patients for cannabis. These cannabis certifications provide for the purchase of medical cannabis in various forms, including smoking products. Reeves, who previously indicated that a deal between the House and the Senate would be enough for a 2021 special session to pass the bill, wants tighter restrictions on the amount of marijuana supplied to patients.
Blackwell told the Mississippi Free Press that he hopes Mississippi’s additional guarantees against recreational use of the medical marijuana product will convince Reeves that the current supply limits will be sufficient.
“We talked about the differences between what he described as the Oklahoma bill … and the things we did, what we put in place, the guarantees that Oklahoma did hadn’t, ”he said. “They didn’t have a tracking system for seeds for sale. I don’t believe there is a cap on the [qualifying] diagnoses, we have, I think, 28 debilitating diagnoses.
“Counties and municipalities can opt out of the program,” added Blackwell. “We have so many [safeguards] in place.”
Blackwell says he brought physical samples of hemp, which is legal, to the meeting for the governor to review. “I took samples to show him what an ounce looks like, what 3.5 grams actually looks like.”
The governor’s veto to come?
Whether the call moves the governor or not may be more relevant than the legislative supporters of the plan hope. “We have the votes to get it through,” Blackwell said, meaning the majority needed to send the bill to the governor. “Do we have the votes to override a veto?” I do not know. This is a topic of discussion for another day.
As diplomatic as his conversation with the Governor may have been, Blackwell seemed convinced that the Legislature had done its part, collectively, to create a satisfactory bill.
“Lee Yancey has been great. Speaker [Philip Gunn] and Jason White were great. Considering a bill of this nature has been an eye-opening experience. I’m not sure if a bill has been considered like this… with the transparency that has occurred, ”Blackwell said in a previous interview.
For medical marijuana, Lt. Gov. Hosemann now holds the ball, ready to assign the bill to the relevant committee as he recovers from his second case of COVID-19. Blackwell explained that the bill would go to the Public Health Committee, where Senator Hob Bryan (D) would take him to the Senate.
In an interview Wednesday, Bryan told the Mississippi Free Press that he would not be an obstacle in the process, intending to get it to the prosecution as quickly as possible. “Assuming a bill comes forward and assuming it’s public health… I would call the meeting as soon as reasonably possible,” Bryan said.
Blackwell claimed that none of the remaining changes in the bill would delay his commission assignment. Assuming the coronavirus does not further delay the session, which is unknown, a Senate vote next week seems likely.
This story was first published by Mississippi Free Press.
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