Golden Triangle lawmakers say they are supporting the effort to pass legislation to start a medical marijuana program.
Whether or not they support the proposal crafted by negotiators from both houses of the Legislature this week depends largely on details that lawmakers say they have not yet learned.
“To be honest, I’m still investigating, trying to find out what’s in it,” said representative Kabir Karriem (D, Columbus). “There are concerns I have. For me, this is our own chance to get it right, so I hope what is in this bill is true to the initiative taken by the voters.
State House and Senate negotiators announced Thursday that they have agreed on a bill and will ask Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session of the legislature to vote on it.
The move comes after the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned a voter initiative passed by a 3-to-1 margin in the November election to create a medical marijuana program.
The plan that should be presented at the extraordinary session differs in many ways from that adopted by the voters.
“I’m really not sure if I can support this version or not,” said rep Dana McLean (R, Columbus). “I I was hoping that we would have a more conservative approach than the (voters’) initiative that was taken, and we could modify and refine it from there.
Among McLean’s objections to the bill is language that would allow medical marijuana to be smoked, something she said she objected to during an appearance before the Columbus Rotary Club in July.
“This is one of the things I was hoping not to be in this legislation,” McLean said. “I think that allowing one’s smoke makes it more difficult for law enforcement to manage. Much would have preferred to see it used in other forms, like maybe an inhaler like the one you have with asthma.
Rep. Rob Roberson (R, Starkville) said part of the planned legislation he promotes is a sliding fee scale for those who want to grow or distribute medical marijuana.
“From what I understand, the fees vary based on volume,” Roberson said. “I like this idea because I don’t want the big companies outside the state to be the only ones who can be involved on the business side. I think it allows the people of the state to be a part of it if it’s something they want to pursue. “
Roberson said he was also concerned about rumors that gun rights for those who applied for a medical marijuana card could be in jeopardy.
“Fortunately, our Second Amendment rights will not be affected by this,” Roberson said.
Senator Angela Turner-Ford (D, West Point) said she too was concerned about who would be allowed to use medical marijuana as a business opportunity.
“My main concern is making sure this is a business and industry where there aren’t too many barriers for people interested in getting into the commercial marijuana industry.” , she said. “There is still a lot that I don’t know about this bill, so it’s hard to say if I will support it or not. I have always been for medical marijuana, but I did not support the bill that the legislature intended to compete with the one that voters supported. I hope this new bill will reflect what voters have passed. That’s all I’m going to say.
Senator Chuck Younger (R, Columbus) said he was confident he would vote for the bill if a special session was called.
“I am for medical marijuana and I will vote for it,” he said. “I really don’t see a reason not to. The FDA has approved drugs that are much more powerful than marijuana. To me, marijuana is much safer than a lot of these pain relievers that we have here. “
A provision in the bill allows cities and counties to opt out of the program, but voters will be allowed to overturn local government bans through a referendum.
“I think there are a lot of conservative communities that could end up pulling out,” McLean said.
Roberson thinks the opposite.
“I don’t see why this would happen,” he said. “All people would have to do was go to the next county. Why would a city want to forgo sales tax based on this? “
McLean said she was also concerned the market was oversaturated with producers and dispensaries.
“In Utah, they have a limit on the number of dispensaries and I like that idea, even if you run into the free market issue,” she said.
This is another aspect of the free market influences on a medical marijuana program that concerns Karriem.
Because marijuana is a Schedule 1 narcotic, it is not covered by private health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare.
“It concerns me that the poor do not have access to medical marijuana,” he said. “I hope the program does something to make it affordable and make the business side of it so ordinary Mississippians can be a part of the industry.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and editor for The Dispatch. His e-mail address is [email protected]