The governor of Mississippi evaded questions from patient advocates who confronted him this week to ask when he will make good on his pledge to call a special session to pass a medical marijuana bill.
Gov. Tate Reeves (R) had previously said he’d convene a special session if lawmakers reached a deal on medical cannabis legislation. House and Senate leaders announced that they came to such an agreement last month, yet the governor came back with several objections, forcing legislators to go back and make some compromises. Even after they did that, however, Reeves has held firm on what leadership says are “unreasonable demands.”
He didn’t seem too keen on addressing the possibility of a special session at a meet-and-greet event on Wednesday or at a separate event on Thursday where he was pressed on the issue.
Advocates approached Reeves at a restaurant, with one person pushing a boy in a wheelchair and handing him a photo of the child with a black eye that he got after having a seizure. “We need his medicine and we need it soon,” she said.
“He said that, ‘We’re working on it,’” the woman later told a reporter from Mississippi Today. “He ran away from us in the restaurant as I tried to push Brian around in his wheelchair… We handed him a photo of Brian with a black eye from his seizures, and he tried not to take it but I forced his hand and he just kept saying, ‘thank you, thank you’ and tried to walk off.”
“He wouldn’t give me an answer,” she continued. “We told him we know that both sides have agreed to something, and they’re waiting on him to call a session. He would not answer us as to when the session would be. Pretty much, he treated Brian like he had the plague, barely even looked at him.”
When reporters asked the governor about a special session, chasing him down after an event on Thursday, he simply said that it’s “definitely a realistic possibility” and he and lawmakers are “continuing to talk about it.”
As far as legislative leaders are concerned, however, it’s time to pull the trigger and get the bill passed.
“We’re ready to go,” House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) said on Thursday. “The last communication I had with [Reeves] was about two weeks ago—or, I guess about three weeks ago now. We called him and said, ‘Hey, we’re ready to go on this.’ He said he’d think about it. That’s all I’ve heard.”
There are plenty of reasons for urgency on the issue. Beyond the obvious that patients are sick and may benefit from cannabis, there’s the fact that legislators worked on the reform because the state Supreme Court shot down a medical marijuana legalization ballot initiative that voters overwhelmingly passed last year on a constitutional technicality.
But what’s more, lawmakers say that giving them the chance to pass legalization during a special session before the end of the year would help them address large issues like appropriating coronavirus funds when the legislature comes back into session in 2022.
One additional complication that legislators have faced is that Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson strongly insisted that his department not be responsible for licensing marijuana businesses. He sent letters to lawmakers and the state attorney general in recent weeks to express his opposition to regulating the program.
Legislators responded by placing that responsibility with the Health Department, and Gipson expressed gratitude for that on Thursday.
Under one version of the draft proposal that has been circulated, patients could purchase up to an ounce of cannabis per day, with a maximum purchase limit of 14 ounces per month.
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In addition to the conditions that were previously included in the voter-approved initiative that qualify patients for medical marijuana, the new legislation adds hepatitis, Alzheimer’s disease, spastic quadriplegia and chronic pain.
After receiving an initial recommendation for medical cannabis from a licensed practitioner, patients would have to go back to their physician for a reevaluation six months later.
There would be a weight-based excise tax imposed on cannabis sales—$15 per ounce of flower or trim—as well as the state’s general sales tax.
No home cultivation option would be permitted under the measure. Smoking cannabis would be allowed, but not in public spaces.
A poll released in June found that a majority of Mississippi voters support legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, with 63 percent saying they want the legislature to pass a bill that mirrors the ballot measure that was nullified by the court.
A Senate committee held a series of hearings to take testimony on what a medical cannabis legalization bill could look like should lawmakers decide to pass the reform legislatively.
The governor said earlier this summer that “I support the will of the voters,” and “I think we will have a medical marijuana program in Mississippi.” He said it’s “imperative that we get it done, and get it done quickly.”
But despite that stated support, it appears Reeves is willing to delay. He wants the legislation to restrict the amount of cannabis flower a person can possess to 0.7 grams—or about two joints worth. And that’s reportedly one issue at the center of why he’s yet to agree to a special session.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.