Mississippi Governor Says Medical Marijuana Bill Needs Changes Before Special Session Is Called
“We are a long way towards getting a final agreement, but not all the way there yet.”
By Geoff Pender, Mississippi Today
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) on Wednesday said he’ll call lawmakers into special session on medical marijuana legislation “sooner rather than later,” but would not speculate a date or whether he’ll also let legislators tackle pandemic pay for nurses or other COVID-19 measures they’re proposing.
Reeves said there are still details—such as funding for a medical marijuana program—to be worked out, and indicated a session would be in coming weeks, but not this week as lawmakers had requested.
“There is no update on exactly when, but I do anticipate we are going to have one sooner rather than later,” Reeves said at a press conference on workforce training on Wednesday. He said he spoke on Monday with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (R) and House Speaker Philip Gunn (R).
“We are a long way towards getting a final agreement, but not all the way there yet,” Reeves said. “At this point it’s jut a matter of working out the final details…things such as funding, an appropriation bill, what that would look like.”
After months of negotiations, Gunn and Hosemann announced a House-Senate agreement last week on a medical marijuana program to replace the one adopted by voters last year but shot down by the state Supreme Court on a constitutional technicality. Gunn and Hosemann said they have the votes to pass the measure and asked Reeves to call a special session for Friday.
The draft medical marijuana bill legislative leaders have agreed to would levy the state’s sales tax, currently at 7 percent, on marijuana, and a $15 per ounce excise. But the bill does not specify funding for the Departments of Health, Revenue and Agriculture to run and regulate it. The bill routes the marijuana revenue into the general fund. This has prompted concern from state health and agriculture leaders that lawmakers would not adequately fund the agencies to stand up such a program.
Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson, who said he opposes his agency being involved in marijuana regulations, said the Legislature is “notorious” for creating new programs or duties for agencies without providing extra funding or staff. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs expressed similar funding concerns this week.
Reeves has sole authority to call lawmakers into special session and set the agenda.
Hosemann and Gunn have also asked Reeves to allow lawmakers to tackle COVID-19 issues in a special session.
They want to give federal American Rescue Plan Act money to hospitals to pay nurses extra to help with what some health officials said is a shortage statewide of 2,000 nurses during the pandemic.
Gunn and Hosemann also want to change wording in a law that would allow families of first responders to receive death benefits if the first responder dies from COVID-19. Public safety officials have determined that a 2016 law that provides $100,000 in benefits to families of those who die in the line of duty does not cover COVID-19 deaths.
Hosemann and Gunn also want to provide emergency funding from federal ARPA funds to child abuse and domestic violence shelters and programs, who have lost regular sources of funding due to the pandemic, while cases of abuse have increased.
Reeves has had a rocky relationship with the Legislature, and has clashed particularly with his fellow GOP legislative leaders over control of spending federal pandemic stimulus money. Reeves has also said he doesn’t want lawmakers tied up at length in a special session, which would cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a day.
This story was first published by Mississippi Today.
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Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.