While an initial agreement on a medical marijuana proposal was reached between both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature in late September, lawmakers are still awaiting a special session call from the governor.
Along with Senator Kevin Blackwell, Representative Lee Yancey authored the bill and joined SuperTalk Mississippi this morning to share the latest on the situation at the capitol.
Yancey explained that Governor Reeves and his staff reviewed the initial proposal and recommended several amendments which have now been made. Among the changes, it was written into the bill that medical marijuana retailers & other businesses associated with the program will not qualify for the incentives typically offered by the state to businesses choosing to come to Mississippi.
After the changes were made, the bill was sent back to the governor late last week. Yancey says there are no other hurdles in the process, and that the governor, if he so chooses, could call a special session “very soon.” He noted that the House and Senate are ready to move on the proposal and could get the bill passed in one day.
The program, under the current proposal, would be overseen by the Mississippi State Department of Health with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture and Commerce assisting with regulatory duties. Ag Commissioner Andy Gipson has been adamantly opposed to his agency’s inclusion, but Yancey says they’ve attempted to accommodate his concerns, starting with the decision to keep licensing under MSDH.
“That way Andy, or the department, doesn’t have to say we are getting these people started or we condone what they’re doing. What we’re asking them to do is to inspect, regulate and enforce the cultivators, the processors, the transporters and the disposal/destruction…All he’s doing is making sure they’re doing it right,” he explained.
Gipson has stated in recent weeks that no one has been able to identify the funding source for the new costs associated with their duties—estimated by the commissioner to be around $3.7 million annually.
“We need all departments of government to come on board and help us to get this done,” Yancey said. “We’ve got the Department of Revenue doing their part, the Department of Health doing their part in the middle of a huge pandemic with other things [State Health Officer] Dr. Thomas Dobbs is concerned with. We’ve loaded MSDH up as much as we can, and we need the Department of Agriculture to help us with these enforcement and regulation issues.”
While Yancey believes that the bill isn’t perfect, he said they’ve managed to find common ground to create a workable proposal that meets the needs of Mississippians, municipalities, and employers.
Individual municipalities across the state will be able to opt out of the program within 90 days after passage, but residents can launch a referendum to get the issue placed on the ballot. Municipalities that opt out can also opt back in at a later date.