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“If there is a further delay, it will be squarely on the governor’s shoulders, rather than on the legislature.”

By Geoff Pender, Mississippi today

Republican legislative leaders said Wednesday that Gov. Tate Reeves (right) is holding a special session to review a medical marijuana program with “unreasonable demands” at the last minute.

Executives, in comments Wednesday to Mississippi Today, said they had conceded many last-minute requests from Reeves for changes to a medical marijuana proposal they had been working on for months, but came to a dead end along with him on the amount of marijuana smoking patients might have.

The heist is more than 0.7 grams of a marijuana flower dosage unit, the amount Reeves wants it lowered.

“We’ve been working long hours on this,” Rep. Lee Yancey (right) told Mississippi Today on Wednesday. “We have introduced a bill that many believe would be the best program in the country. We are ready to hold a special session. We have the voices to pass it. 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 a further delay, it will be squarely on the governor’s shoulders, rather than on the legislature.”

Lawmakers drafted legislation to create a medical marijuana program to replace one approved by voters in November, but rejected by the state’s Supreme Court on a constitutional question in May.

Reeves, who alone has the authority to summon lawmakers to a special session, has said for months that he will do so if lawmakers can come to an agreement on a bill. They did and informed Reeves on September 24.

But Reeves didn’t summon them to session. Rather, he called on lawmakers to make many changes to their proposed agenda. Yancey said legislative leaders agreed to many of the changes Reeves requested, but his requested limit on the amount of marijuana flowers a patient can receive is unreasonable.

The bill sets a medical dosage unit of marijuana at 3.5 grams, or about an eighth of an ounce, which Yancey says is an “industry standard” in all states with marijuana programs. The bill would allow a patient to purchase up to eight units, or one ounce, of smoking marijuana per week, or four ounces per month. The Initiative 65 program passed by voters would have allowed up to five ounces per month, which Yancey said lawmakers considered too much.

Yancey said lawmakers have long been in agreement on how much marijuana is allowed to smoke after much research, and Reeves’ request for a change came at the eleventh hour. Despite being his fellow Republicans, Reeves, a former two-term lieutenant governor, has often clashed with legislative leadership and communications, and cooperation between the executive and the legislature has been patchy.

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

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

Yancey said that after lawmakers said they would not budge on the dosage, Reeves responded with a proposal that doctors could approve the 3.5-gram doses, but nurse practitioners, physician assistants and optometrists would be limited to 2.8 grams. Yancey said it would be impractical and create more debate about the “scope of practice,” something the state has seen for years with other health issues.

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

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

Yancey said lawmakers were shocked to hear Reeves at a press conference on Tuesday say he was pushing lawmakers to cut THC levels as well.

“He never told us a word about the THC levels,” Yancey said. “It was all about the dosage. “

Yancey said lawmakers accepted the changes Reeves proposed, including:

  • Do not allow marijuana companies to receive business incentives funded by state taxpayers.
  • Require the Department of Health to conduct background checks on caregivers who distribute marijuana to patients. Yancey said lawmakers agreed to replace “may” with “must” on this provision.
  • Prohibit those convicted of certain crimes from working for marijuana companies for 10 years, instead of the five years as proposed by lawmakers.
  • Increase the time available to state agencies to issue marijuana licenses and permits from 90 days to 120 days after the measure is adopted.

Yancey said legislative leaders disagreed with some of the governor’s proposals, including that the Department of Public Safety be involved in regulating the program. Several other concessions, Yancey said, have been made.

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

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (right) on Wednesday said in a statement: “President Kevin Blackwell has worked for months with his colleagues in the House and Senate, citizens, state agencies, political experts and healthcare and industry professionals to develop medical cannabis legislation. Public hearings were also held. A bill was sent to the governor and many of the recommendations received were incorporated into the bill. We are prepared to consider this bill in a special session.

Yancey said: “If he doesn’t want to convene a special session for this, we will do it the first week of January in regular session and he can deal with it after he passes it. The delay is not due to the legislature. The delay is because the governor continues to make unreasonable demands on us. “

This story was first published by Mississippi Today.

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