The most recent chapter in Mississippi’s storied history working to pass a framework for legal medicinal cannabis, House and Senate negotiators are expected to begin meeting next week in the hopes of drafting a medical cannabis compromise bill, according to Mississippi Today. Both sides say the governor could call a special session in August, where lawmakers would look to pass the measure.
Republican Senator Kevin Blackwell is leading the Senate’s efforts and said July 21 that he expected they would reach an agreement soon. He also said the special session could be called by mid-August.
Republican Representative Lee Yancey is drafting the House bill and spoke about the August session directly and its likelihood of happening, “I don’t see why not, as long as we come to an agreement soon.” Yancey and Blackwell both said they’ve had informal discussions, though they plan to start narrowing in on the compromise bill in the coming weeks.
The Senate Public Health Committee has already held two hearings. They plan to hold their third, and potentially final, hearing on medical cannabis once the Senate drafts a bill. So far, the panel has heard from medical experts, cannabis business associations and officials from other states with legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis policy already in place.
As of now, there is still a mountain of terms to settle on and work through in the state. Lawmakers in the House and Senate are questioning how strict regulations should be, whether they should allow smokable cannabis, whether they should allow outdoor growing or indoor exclusively and whether they will give cities the option to opt out of allowing dispensaries or other cannabis businesses.
One of the previous hearings was held after the court overturned the state’s voter-approved medical cannabis initiative. Prior to the vote, officials argued that the legislature’s failure to update guidelines for petitioners should invalidate the initiative vote, even though Initiative 65 was overwhelmingly passed by voters.
The only person with authority to call a special session of the Legislature is Republican Governor Tate Reeves, who has said he would only do so when he is certain the House and Senate have at a minimum a rough agreement on what a medical cannabis measure would entail. He cited taxpayers, saying he didn’t want them to foot the bill for a long session if the two chambers can’t come to a quick consensus to swiftly pass the bill.
“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.”
The Senate is looking to honor the spirit of Initiative 65, Blackwell said, though he said his starting point lies at the last measure the Senate passed that died in the House. Even Initiative 65 has critics, who called the measure too strict and said it could restrict entrepreneurs in the state from getting into the industry due to high licensing fees and the amount of 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.”
Yancey also admitted that House members have an overall different view on regulation, taxation and some of the other pertinent terms of crafting the bill. Yancey says he aims for the House position to be informed by doctors to help decide whether patients can smoke cannabis or if it will remain restricted to other forms of consumption.
Senate Public Health also caught up with professionals in states that have already legalized cannabis, focusing on the issues they have faced from both medical and recreational cannabis legalization and forming regulations surrounding it.
There is the additional factor of social equity for the state and shedding light on the American people of color who haven’t been able to participate in cannabis business opportunities because of discriminatory policies and law enforcement practices from the past surrounding the War on Drugs.
The Mississippi Minority Cannabis Association is communicating with lawmakers to ensure that the state will “reinvest in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs” and not craft the bill to create unintended consequences to these communities.
“There are some of the best farmers in the US in this state,” said MMCA’s Roderick Woullard. “Let’s find a way to get them to the table.”
Though it doesn’t seem to be an urgent conversation, adult-use recreational cannabis has also come up frequently. Michigan’s regulatory agency’s Director Andrew Brisbo told Mississippi lawmakers that it is “reasonable to assume it will morph into adult use at some point. That’s inevitable.