Rep. Evans believes medical marijuana special session could be called soon

Published 9:23 am Thursday, September 30, 2021

Mississippi House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a draft bill for a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters in Nov. 2020 but cancelled by the state Supreme Court in May 2021.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn have asked Gov. Tate Reeves to call lawmakers into special session on Oct. 1 to address the legislation, which is subject to change by the full Legislature. Reeves, who has sole authority to call special legislative sessions and set the agenda, has not said when, or if, he would call lawmakers back to Jackson to deal with the proposal, but he had said he would call a medical marijuana session if lawmakers were in agreement on a program.

“I strongly support allowing those with debilitating, painful and chronic illnesses to use medical marijuana,” said Rep. Bob Evans. Evans represents District 91 in the Mississippi House which covers a portion of Jefferson Davis County including Prentiss and Bassfield. “Medical marijuana, by definition, requires a doctor’s prescription and oversight. That restrictive requirement will be a safeguard against indiscriminate marijuana use under the guise of being medical marijuana.”

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Evans’ opinion is that a person using marijuana is much less of a danger to themself or the the community than one who abuses alcohol. “While some will say we shouldn’t have either one, reality is otherwise. While many claim that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that inevitably leads to use of other, more addicting and dangerous substances, that wasn’t the case with me, a product of the 1960’s and a charter member of the Woodstock generation. Finally,  I believe that an unintended but welcome result will be to greatly decrease the illegal growing and trafficking of marijuana for which, I believe, many thousands of our citizens are unnecessarily incarcerated which costs the citizens of Mississippi tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

Evans expects the Governor to call a special session soon saying, “If, for no other reason, that he is a politician and understands that the now-struck-down medical marijuana initiative was approved by better than 70% of the voters. Those same voters will likely be voting in the 2023 governor election.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson said lawmakers are not following the will of voters with the medical marijuana proposal and reiterated his vow that his agency will not participate in regulating it.

“Who is going to operate this expansive program?” Gipson, a former longtime state legislator, said at a press conference on Monday. “Who is going to pay for it? How much is it going to cost? The Mississippi Legislature is notorious for passing massive government programs and expanding bureaucracy without providing any way to pay for it.”

“This agency is not designed nor equipped, nor is this agency funded for such an expansive and expensive program as this proposes,” Gipson said. “… This is not what people voted for … This is not what people elected me to do, be a marijuana kingpin.”

The proposal calls for the program to be regulated by the Mississippi State Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Revenue. Initiative 65, briefly enshrined in the state constitution by voters before being struck down by the high court on a constitutional technicality, would have had MSDH solely in charge of regulating the program.

Among other things, the 144-page draft bill would allow smoking of cannabis, allow cities and counties to “opt out” of the program and would be subject to state sales and excise taxes.

But Gipson, who said he had no input in the bill and only saw the draft on Friday, has said for weeks that he does not want to regulate growing, processing or transportation of marijuana as the bill provides. He initially said marijuana remains federally illegal, so he would be violating his oath of office to uphold U.S. laws if he participated. On Monday he listed numerous other problems he has with the proposal, although he said he believes the state will ultimately join more than two dozen others in having a medical marijuana program.

Gipson said Initiative 65 would have been self-funded, “by the industry” through fees, but that lawmakers are now planning to tax it and all the money “is sucked up and going into the state general fund” with no clear plan from lawmakers on how to fund the program.

“This proposal is not what people voted for,” Gipson said.

Hosemann and Gunn last week said they believe they have the votes to pass the proposal.