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Legislative Leaders: Gov. Reeves is Holding up Medical Marijuana with ‘Unreasonable Demands’

By Geoff Pender

Mississippi Today

House speaker Philip Gunn, from left, and Gov. Tate Reeves listen as Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann speaks at the start of Gov. Tate Reeves’ COVID-19 press conference at the State of Mississippi Woolfolk Building in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, May 7, 2020. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday said Gov. Tate Reeves is holding up a special session to consider a medical marijuana program with last-minute, “unreasonable demands.”

The leaders, in comments on Wednesday to Mississippi Today, said they’ve conceded to numerous last-minute requests from Reeves for changes to a medical marijuana proposal they’ve worked on for months, but have reached an impasse with him on the amount of smokable marijuana patients could have.

The holdup is over 0.7 grams of a dosage unit of marijuana flower — the amount by which Reeves wants it lowered.

“We have worked long hours on this,” Rep. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, told Mississippi Today on Wednesday. “… We have brought forward a bill that many have said would be the best program in the country. We are ready to have a special session. We have the votes to pass this. An overwhelming number in the House and Senate are ready to pass this, and we have a majority of people in Mississippi who voted for us to pass this.

“If there is any further delay, that will be squarely on the shoulders of the governor, rather than the Legislature.”

Lawmakers crafted legislation to create a medical marijuana program to replace one approved by voters in November but shot down by the state Supreme Court on a constitutional issue in May.

Reeves, who has sole authority to call lawmakers into special session, has said for months he would do so if lawmakers reached agreement on a bill. They did so, and informed Reeves of this on Sept. 24.

But Reeves has not called them into session. He has instead called for lawmakers to make numerous changes to their proposed program. Yancey said legislative leaders agreed to numerous changes Reeves requested, but that his requested limit on the amount of marijuana flower a patient can receive is unreasonable.

READ MORE: Reeves delays medical marijuana special session over details of legislative proposal

The proposed legislation defines a medical dosage unit of marijuana as 3.5 grams — or about an eighth of an ounce — which Yancey said is an “industry standard” across states with marijuana programs. The bill would allow a patient to purchase up to eight units, or 1 ounce, of smokable marijuana per week, or 4 ounces per month. The Initiative 65 program passed by voters would have allowed up to 5 ounces a month, which Yancey said lawmakers felt was too much.

Yancey said lawmakers have long been agreed on the amount of smokable marijuana allowed after much research, and Reeves’ request for a change has come in the eleventh hour. Despite being fellow Republicans, Reeves, a former two-term lieutenant governor, has clashed often with legislative leaders and communication, and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches has been spotty.

Reeves, Yancey said, on the advice of state Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, wants the dosage unit reduced to 2.8 grams. He said that Dobbs has said that nationally, the content of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — has increased by 23% nationally since 2015, therefore the amount of marijuana a patient should be allowed should be reduced by a similar amount.

“An eighth of an ounce is an industry standard,” Yancey said. “Medical marijuana machines are calibrated on eighths of an ounce … We have told the governor, no, we are not going to change, that we are going to do just like 37 other states and the District of Columbia, and use the industry standard and allow people with debilitating conditions the same relief as other states with medical marijuana … We already would have one of the most conservative programs in the country. We told him no on that.”

Yancey said that after lawmakers said they wouldn’t budge on the dosage, Reeves countered with a proposal for physicians to be able to approve the 3.5-gram doses, but nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and optometrists would be limited to 2.8 grams. Yancey said this would be unworkable and would create more “scope of practice” debate, which the state has already seen for years with other health care issues.

Reeves’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. In a Tuesday press conference, Reeves said, “I think getting it done right is more important than getting it done quick. But I also recognize the will of the voters.”

Yancey said that under the legislative proposal, Mississippi would have one of the only medical marijuana programs in the nation with THC limits: 30% for smokable flower and 60% for concentrates.

Yancey said lawmakers were shocked to hear Reeves in a press conference on Tuesday indicate that he was pushing lawmakers to reduce THC levels as well.

“He’s never said a word to us about THC levels,” Yancey said. “It was all about dosage.”

Yancey said lawmakers agreed to changes Reeves proposed, including:

  • Not allowing marijuana companies to receive state taxpayer funded business incentives.
  • Requiring the Department of Health to conduct background checks on caregivers dispensing marijuana to patients. Yancey said lawmakers agreed to change “may” to “shall” on this provision.
  • Prohibiting people convicted of certain felonies from working for marijuana companies for 10 years, instead of five years as lawmakers proposed.
  • Increasing the amount of time state agencies have to issue marijuana licenses and permits from 90 days to 120 after passage of the measure.

Yancey said legislative leaders did not agree to some of the governor’s proposals, including that the Department of Public Safety be involved in regulating the program. Several other concessions, Yancey said, were made.

As governor, Reeves can call a special session and broadly set its agenda. But he cannot control what the Legislature passes, and any lawmaker can attempt to amend any bill brought for a vote. Reeves could veto any legislation passed, but lawmakers could override a veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said in a statement: “Chairman Kevin Blackwell worked with his colleagues in the House and Senate, citizens, state agencies, policy experts, and healthcare and industry professional for months to develop the current medical cannabis legislation. Public hearings were also held. A draft of the legislation was sent to the governor and many of the recommendations received were incorporated into the bill. We are ready to consider this legislation in special session.”

Yancey said: “If he doesn’t want to call a special session for this, we will do it on the first week of January in regular session and he can deal with it after we pass it. The delay is not because of the Legislature. The delay is because the governor keeps coming to us with unreasonable demands.”

READ THE BILL: Mississippi’s long-awaited medical marijuana draft

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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