Lead lawmaker hopes for special session on medical marijuana in mid-August

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Jul. 21—JACKSON — The top two lawmakers crafting a medical marijuana program are in the final stages of completing drafts to present to Mississippi legislative leaders next week.

State Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, is the lead architect in the Senate and state Rep. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, is the lead negotiator in the House. Blackwell and Yancey both said that their bill drafts are similar to Initiative 65, the voter-initiated medical marijuana program that was tossed out by the state Supreme Court earlier this year.

"We'll allow the free market to determine which businesses succeed and what businesses fail," Yancey said. "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."

Speaking after a Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee hearing, Blackwell said that his draft is also similar to a bill that the Senate proposed during the last legislative session.

"I hope to have a special session by mid-August," Blackwell said. "But, you know, I don't call that. That's the governor."

Yancey said that he hopes to have a draft of a bill ready to share with other House leaders next week. After that, he intends to meet with Blackwell to resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions.

Only Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has the power to accelerate the installation of a medical marijuana program. The first-term Republican governor has the sole authority call lawmakers into special legislative session.

The governor has repeatedly said he will not call for a special session until there is an agreement on a legislative proposal beforehand among lawmakers. The other factor at play in the special session is whether Reeves approves of whatever agreement the Legislature puts forward.

While in Tupelo last week, Reeves said that he and his staff are talking with lawmakers on marijuana program details such as THC strength and taxation.

"THC content: probably the single most important issue that can be determined," Reeves previously said. "Are there going to be limits on THC content, and exactly what are these limits? Is it daily? Is it weekly? Is it monthly?"

These same details that Reeves addressed were discussed on Wednesday in the Senate Public Health Committee's third and final hearing on medical marijuana.

Dr. Lynn Parry, a member of the American Medical Association's task force on cannabis, advised lawmakers to cultivate a true medical marijuana program by using guardrails that set limits on THC and require physicians to keep proper documentation of how much marijuana they're certifying for patients to use.

"If you're going to treat this as a medical product, then treat it as a medical product," Parry said. "And follow all of the guidelines and rules that we follow in medicine, which is you keep records, document what you see, make a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment for the diagnosis."

But the other recurring theme that was discussed at the hearing is that with any medicinal program Mississippi implements, leaders should anticipate that an adult use program or a recreational program could naturally be on the horizon.

"I don't want to be disingenuous to the public," state Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula told the Daily Journal. "If people will listen to what these hearings have said, pretty much every one of them have said that with any medical program, you're going to go to recreational."

taylor.vance@djournal.com

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