Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has stuck his heels in the sand to not move forward with a proposed medical cannabis bill in 2021, and now finds his veto card in 2022 is rapidly fading.
That’s because on Jan. 19, the House of Representatives passed an amended version of the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, 105-14, showing overwhelming bipartisan support for a legalization effort igniting with voter-approved Initiative 65 in November 2020 would. The state Supreme Court struck down that signature-collection initiative in May 2021, and state legislatures have been working on craft legislation since then.
RELATED: Mississippi Supreme Court overturns voter-approved medical cannabis ballot initiative
“Why are we here?” Rep. Lee Yancey asked at the house on Wednesday. “We are here because there was a voting initiative in November 2020. In this electoral initiative [68.5 percent] of people said they wanted a medical marijuana program. They indicated that this was something they thought would be good to alleviate those suffering.”
Despite the 2021 Mississippi Legislature adjournment, which came a month before the Supreme Court’s decision, Republicans Kevin Blackwell and Yancey, both Republicans, began work on a legislative path aimed at gaining the will of voters honor while the congressional body was out of session.
However, those legislative efforts stalled in the fall of 2021 when Reeves refused to call a special session. Despite his opposition to Initiative 65, the governor said he would call a special session if Senate and House leaders came to a compromise proposal that received majority support in both houses.
Despite Blackwell and Yancey Reeves bringing forward a bill, the governor has been coming back with more and more demands, Blackwell told the Cannabis Business Times earlier this month.
The Mississippi Legislature, now convened for its regular session in 2022, is close to passing the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act (Senate Bill 2095), most recently with the amended House of Representatives approving the bill on Wednesday.
“I’m so happy to be standing here now,” Yancey said on the floor of the house. “It took a long time. And I think you all know how you’re going to vote on this bill. It’s something I never thought I would do.”
Yancey, chairman of the House Drug Policy Committee, came six days after the state Senate passed its version of the bill by a 46-5 vote.
RELATED: The Mississippi Senate Sends a Tough Message to the Governor of the House of Representatives in Section 46-5 of the Medicinal Cannabis Act
The version of SB 2095 passed by the House of Representatives offered three changes that were first approved in committee.
First, the House Legislature reduced the legal limit from 3.5 ounces to 3 ounces of dried cannabis flower per month. While the House of Representatives left the daily unit structure at 3.5 grams of dried flower, 1 gram of concentrate, or 100 milligrams of THC in a fortified product, legislators in the lower chamber set a cap of six units per week and 24 units per month for qualification patients.
While voter-approved Initiative 65 proposed a monthly limit of 5 ounces, legislative leaders originally proposed a limit of 4 ounces in their bill presented to Reeves last year. The governor came back and asked for the limit to be lowered to 2 ounces. In a social media post in late December, Reeves questioned whether lawmakers would propose a program for adult use rather than a medical program.
Yancey took aim at the governor’s innuendo this week.
“This is a medical program,” Yancey said. “This is not a recreational program. This is for sick people. This is for people with debilitating illnesses.”
Some of these debilitating diseases listed in Mississippi’s medical cannabis law include cancer, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s disease, spastic tetraplegia, multiple sclerosis, and seizures, among several other qualifying conditions.
In addition to the daily units and allowable limits, SB 2095 would set a THC content cap of 30% for dried flower and 60% for concentrates.
The second amendment, which the House of Representatives included in its version of SB 2095, removes the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce from oversight responsibilities in the legislation and transfers those responsibilities to the Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department remains the regulatory arm for pharmacies and tax collection in the House of Representatives version.
And third, the House of Representatives approved an amendment that would allow cultivation and processing facilities to be classified as commercial zones (in addition to the industrial and agricultural zones in the Senate version of the bill).
Yancey also stressed the importance of a medical program that includes testing facilities to ensure purity, potency and effectiveness, especially as it involves offering products free of lead, contaminants, restricted pesticides and insecticides, fentanyl and other drugs.
And he stressed the continuing need for research and development, particularly at the university level. The University of Mississippi’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (RIPS) has a federally funded program that has made cannabis available to researchers through the National Institute on Drug Abuse for more than 50 years.
“In these research facilities, they will help determine which cannabinoids work in which diseases,” Yancey said. “And we need more research in this area. You’ve heard of THC. It’s a cannabinoid. You’ve heard CBD. It’s a cannabinoid. There are over 150 cannabinoids in a cannabis plant. And science has so far only determined what 14 or 15 of them are. The research and potential of medicine for this plant and uses are unlimited.”
But the core of the bill revolves around properly enrolling qualifying patients to participate in a medical cannabis program and then giving those qualifying patients access to the medicines they need, he said.
Another qualifying condition included in the current version of the bill is cachexia, also known as wasting syndrome, a condition that causes the body’s muscles to atrophy, according to WebMD.
“I had cachexia when I had cancer,” Yancey said. “I’ve lost 25 pounds. They said, ‘Lee, if you lose any more weight, you need a feeding tube.’ I said I don’t want a feeding tube. I don’t want to cut a hole in myself. I don’t want to do this. And I knew nothing about medicinal cannabis at the time. I didn’t even think about it.”
Every day after his radiation, Yancey said he consumed a 1,000-calorie milkshake to try to keep his weight at his skin-and-bones weight of 170 pounds.
“Some people need medicinal cannabis to eat because it increases their appetite,” he said. “Medical cannabis helps with her pain. Medicinal cannabis helps them stop shaking when they have seizures or when they are shaking uncontrollably due to a nervous condition.”
With the changes in the House of Representatives, the bill goes back to the Senate for further consideration. Should the Senate approve the House amendments without further revision, the bill would go to Reeves’ desk.
While Reeves last fall threatened to veto bills that didn’t meet his demands, both houses of the Mississippi Legislature represent the two-thirds majority needed to override a governor’s veto of SB 2095.
The Republican-led Mississippi Legislature overturned a Reeves veto on the state’s public education budget back in 2020. According to Mississippi Today, it was the first time since 2002 that Mississippi lawmakers had reversed a governor’s veto.
Blackwell, the author of SB 2095, told CBT earlier this month that it was not the intention of the Legislature to override an Executive Branch veto and that he and Yancey had made a concerted effort to accommodate the majority of Reeves’ requests to comply with the legislation, but sick and ailing Mississippi people should no longer have to wait for a medicinal cannabis program.
While Reeves wrote in his December social post, “I can’t put my name on a bill that’s putting this much marijuana on the streets of Mississippi,” Yancey denounced that claim on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
After listing all the qualifying conditions, Yancey said: “So you can see that there is something seriously wrong with you to go to a practitioner and even be referred to get a medical cannabis card. That’s not for everyone on the street. This isn’t for a bunch of kids. This is to hurt people with debilitating medical conditions. And I want to help that. Those are the only people I want to help.”
Yancey added: “And when I got involved in this bill, I said, how can we build a wall around this program so that the people who get it are the ones who need it the most and only the people who.” need it most.