Mississippi Lawmakers Keep Medical Cannabis Hopes Alive
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Mississippi Lawmakers Keep Medical Cannabis Hopes Alive

A draft bill’s release is planned for next week, after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved measure in May.

July 27, 2021

A pair of Mississippi lawmakers are hoping to restore the will of their constituents through drafting medical cannabis legislation, which they plan to release next week. If all goes according to plan, a special session could ensue by mid-August.

Mississippians were originally poised to gain access to the benefits of a medical cannabis program after two-thirds of voters passed Initiative 65 in the November 2020 election. The citizen-led ballot measure prevailed over Alternative 65A, a competing measure put forth by the Mississippi Legislature.

Industry advocacy leaders said Alternative 65A was a cynical effort by lawmakers to misdirect voters, and, if they actually wanted to put a medical cannabis program in place, they would have done it legislatively.

“Just like we saw in the 2018 victory in Utah, Mississippi voters have proven that medical marijuana legalization is politically viable in even the most conservative states in the country,” Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins told Cannabis Business Times after the 2020 election. “This victory is especially significant considering voters were able to see past the Legislature’s attempt to derail Amendment 65 by proposing a confusing and unnecessary alternative initiative of their own.”

While Mississippi voters prevailed by majority on election night, passage of Initiative 65 was short-lived.

On May 14, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the voice of its people was not enough to influence public policy. Six of nine justices favored striking down Initiative 65 because of a signature gathering technicality stemming from the state’s outdated initiative process that put a five-district requirement mathematically at odds with the political structure of the state’s electorate following the 2000 Census, when Mississippi dropped to four congressional districts.

Despite being silenced by the judicial branch, the people’s voice continues to be noticed by Mississippi legislators.

Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell, chairman of the Senate Medicaid Committee, and Republican Rep. Lee Yancey, chairman of the House Drug Policy Committee, are now leading the charge to finish the job, as they work on proposals to create a medical cannabis program two months after the Supreme Court decision.

Blackwell and Yancey both said their bill drafts—which they plan to share as early as next week—are similar to Initiative 65, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

“We’ll allow the free market to determine which businesses succeed and what businesses fail,” Yancey told the newspaper. “We’re giving everybody a fighting chance. We’re also trying to make sure that only the people who are suffering with debilitating medical conditions are the ones who get the benefits.”

Earlier this year, Blackwell sponsored Senate Bill 2765, the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, which included “trigger language,” meaning it could only be enacted if Initiative 65 was struck down. Nonetheless, that bill died when Mississippi’s 2021 legislative session ended April 1.

Blackwell told the Daily Journal he hopes have a special session by mid-August to take up a medical cannabis measure. But that session would have to be called by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who opposed Initiative 65 but has since said he would support honoring the will of the majority of Mississippians by calling for a special session.

However, Tate has repeated said he would only call for a special session if there is an agreement among lawmakers on a legislative proposal beforehand, according to the Daily Journal.

After bill drafts are released in both chambers of the Legislature, Yancey and Blackwell intend to synchronize their measures to meet the governor’s standard.