Bitter disagreement between Mississippi lawmakers erupted Wednesday over regulations for the state’s pending medical marijuana program, leading to a related bill’s death in the House and a Senate maneuver to reintroduce the legislative language within another bill.
Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell―who authored Senate Bill 2765―The Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, suggested the amendment would give the House, “A second bite of the apple.”
Regardless if the House chooses to take the second bite, the fate of The Magnolia State’s medical marijuana program will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, scheduled to hear arguments on April 14th.
Mississippi voters approved Initiative 65 in November, which would have established a state medical marijuana program later in 2021. However, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler challenged the popular initiative with litigation.
Despite 74% voter approval for the initiative, Butler argued it was unconstitutional because an equal number of petition signatures came from 5 congressional districts, while Mississippi currently has 4. She claimed unclarity in the state’s initiative process created a mathematical impossibility for signature gathering. Yet her primary grievance with the new state law is related to limited local regulation of medical marijuana facilities set forth in the initiative.
Mississippi districts decreased from 5 to 4 after the 2000 census for the purposes of congressional elections, but state law still mandates 5 districts for anything other than these elections. Initiative 65 petitioners gathered signatures equally from all 5 districts.
State attorneys wrote in court papers defending the Secretary of State, “Four congressional districts exist in Mississippi under a federal injunction for congressional elections, but five congressional districts exist under state law and may be used for anything but congressional elections.”
Initially Senate Bill 2765 was created as an alternative to Initiative 65, but Blackwell now characterizes the bill as a contingency plan for the state medical marijuana program if the Supreme Court rules against the initiative.
Several legislators voiced objections to the bill during heated debates, culminating in its death in the House. But the Senate had another plan.
Senators added their medical marijuana bill’s language into a House bill involving research on cannabidiol (CBD) for patients with seizures and other illnesses. The amended version passed 29-19, which could essentially reestablish the Senate’s original proposal.
Opposition to the Legislature’s Medical Marijuana Bills
Republican Rep. Joel Bomgar, a staunch proponent and financial supporter of Initiative 65, viewed both bills as a betrayal of Mississippi voters.
“This is a no-win situation and we are playing games with the voters,” Bomgar said. “Ultimately, we need to make this entire thing go away.” He added, “The people have spoken on this… The Supreme Court will rule in a month. There’s no reason for this [bill]…Nobody believes this will turn into anything approaching Initiative 65.”
“I’m not surprised, sadly,” said Jessica Rice, Executive Director of the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association. “Truly, I wish that they would have had this energy to have a medical marijuana program in the state five years ago, or 10 years ago and not just trying to do a power grab. I think that it is not a genuine attempt to create a safety net for Mississippians but an attempt to once again have power.”
The people of Mississippi haven’t just spoken, they’ve shouted. And their overwhelming approval for state-regulated medical marijuana shouldn’t be usurped by a local politician or the legislature.
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