After months of debate and back-and-forth, lawmakers in Mississippi have finally produced a bill to implement a new medical cannabis law in the state.
Republican state Senator Kevin Blackwell filed a 445-page bill on Tuesday, according to the Clarion Ledger newspaper, and the legislation was promptly referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee for review by Lieutenant. Governor Delbert Hosemann.
The Clarion Ledger reported that the chair of that committee, Democratic state Senator Hob Bryan, has said that he intends to bring the bill up for a debate before the panel on Wednesday.
So Blackwell’s bill must effectively clear four more hurdles in order to become law: gain approval from the public health committee; pass out of the state Senate; pass out of the state House; and be signed by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.
In other words: sit tight.
Still, the mere filing of the bill is itself a breakthrough after a year of disagreement and delay surrounding the law.
Almost 70 percent of Mississippi voters approved a ballot initiative in 2020 to legalize medical cannabis in the state for patients with qualifying conditions that include cancer, epilepsy or other seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis, among others.
But despite such resounding public approval, the proposal has been met with resistance ever since. In May of last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the initiative, ruling it unconstitutional on a technicality.
Following that decision, state lawmakers have been engaged in months of negotiations with Reeves to produce a medical cannabis bill in place of the one that was nullified by the court.
In August, Blackwell expressed confidence that lawmakers could get a medical cannabis bill over the line.
“Well, I kind of get tired of saying this, but we’re getting very close,” Blackwell told Mississippi Today.” And I’m sure the folks who are out there who are wanting to use these products for medical needs and certainly for the kids with some of their seizure disorders (that are) frustrating for them. But we are working every day on this trying to advance to get to the point where we can present something to the governor.”
In September, legislators produced a draft of a bill, but Reeves never called a special session to consider the legislation, citing concerns with the drafted proposal.
“I am confident we will have a special session of the Legislature if we get the specifics of a couple of items that are left outstanding,” Reeves said at a press conference in October. “Again, we have made great progress working with our legislative leaders.”
In November, Reeves cited one part of the proposal that “forbid the Department of Public Safety from having a role in the state’s potential medical marijuana industry” as a major area of disagreement.
“Clearly, I wasn’t going to agree to that, so we’ve made some necessary improvements to the bill, but we haven’t gotten to the point where I am comfortable yet in ensuring that we have a program that is truly ‘medical mariuana’ that has strict rules in place,” Reeves said, as quoted by Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
The governor has also raised concerns about the amount of pot a patient can purchase at one time. Now, with the Mississippi legislature officially convening last week, lawmakers will look to pass the bill in a regular session.
The Clarion Ledger reported that the new bill filed this week “allows for medical marijuana card holders to purchase 3.5 grams of the substance a day,” even though Reeves has said that he “would like to see that number lowered to 2.7 grams in most circumstances.”