Will the state be able to pass a marijuana bill?
Published 5:03 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2022
By GEOFF PENDER/Mississippi Today
For some time after the Supreme Court shot down a vote of the people to create a Mississippi medical marijuana, it appeared fait accompli that lawmakers would enact a program, per the “will of the voters.”
Legislative leaders got to work over the summer to draft a bill. Gov. Tate Reeves said he would call lawmakers into special session to pass it once there was general agreement on the plan.
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But it took a while to get such a draft together, and it wasn’t until late September that legislative leaders told Reeves they had consensus on a bill. Then Reeves said he had problems with it — particularly that it would allow patients to receive too much marijuana (even though the 4 ounces a month was less than the 5 ounces voters had approved in 2020). Law enforcement, religious, medical and other lobbies stepped up opposition to the measure.
As the debate devolved into how many joints can be rolled from a gram of pot, the potential for a special session faded. Last week, the regular legislative session began, and whatever golden hour there might have been for medical marijuana after the 2020 passage of Initiative 65 appears to have faded.
As time drags on, passage of a Mississippi medical marijuana program in a legislative session crowded with many other major issues becomes less assured , or even less likely. Senate leadership has indicated they intend to move relatively quickly — as early as this week — on the issue, but even those that support a program in general are coming up with pet peeves with the draft or things they want taken out or put into the measure. Alternative bills are being drafted.
And in the House, which doesn’t plan to take up its own version of the bill, Speaker Philip Gunn stated bluntly last week that “candidly, that is not a top issue for us” and that House leadership was trying to push the bill in “a more conservative direction,” indicating that there’s no longer agreement on the agreements ostensibly reached in the fall.
And for that matter, Reeves has threatened a veto if lawmakers pass what they agreed to then. Some legislative leaders have said they’re standing pat on the amount of marijuana allowed in the bill, but Gunn’s comments would at the least raise doubt about a veto-proof vote on that issue.
The overwhelming 2020 vote for Initiative 65 obviously caught politicians’ attention and prompted promises to quickly reinstate the program after the high court shot it down. There’s been a dearth of publicly released polling on the issue lately, but it would appear many politicians — perhaps with some internal polling in hand — don’t view it as No. 1 with a bullet among voters any more, or at least not an issue that could get your photo stripped from the Capitol hallway.
Medical marijuana has been a divisive issue in the Legislature for years, hence the citizen-and marijuana industry-led initiative.
As the clock ticks, headwinds appear to grow against lawmakers passing a Mississippi medical marijuana program.
Geoff Pender is senior political reporter at Mississippi Today, where this column originally published.