Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus holds medical marijuana hearing

Politics

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus held a medical marijuana hearing at the State Capitol on Tuesday.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs spoke at the meeting, along with other health experts. Dobbs said he’s concerned about how the Health Department would receive money for its part in licensing and regulating a proposed medical marijuana program.

Dobbs said some regulatory programs, such as restaurant inspections, are funded by specific fees, but “there’s no mechanism for funding” for the Health Department in a medical marijuana bill that House and Senate leaders are promoting. Dobbs said relying on legislative budget writers to set aside money for medical marijuana regulation could result in cuts to other public health services if cash is tight.

“Whenever these big pots of money get into our state general fund and there’s a cut, it ends up cutting care for pregnant women and babies, and these other things get fully funded,” Dobbs said. “So, I just want to make sure that we’re very cautious about how we budget this money so that it doesn’t harm the public health mission.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn, both Republicans, told reporters that they believe legislators could handle the business quickly — possibly in as little as one day — in a special session.

Larry A. Walker is a retired pharmacology professor and former director of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, which started growing marijuana in 1968 for research projects. Walker said he has evaluated part of the medical marijuana bill that legislators could consider.

“Unless I missed something in the bill, the greatest deficiency is how do we monitor patients as they go on — for improvement, for side effects, for evaluation of the efficacy of the program,” Walker said.

A few legislators have been negotiating for months on how to create a medical marijuana program. In May, the Mississippi Supreme Court tossed out a medical marijuana initiative (Initiative 65) that voters approved last November. Justices ruled that Mississippi’s initiative process was out of date and the medical marijuana proposal was not properly on the ballot.

The legislative proposal is not identical to the voter-approved initiative. The proposal would allow local governments to limit where the marijuana could be grown, processed or sold. That was not in Initiative 65.

The two lead negotiators — Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of Southaven and Republican Rep. Lee Yancey of Brandon — said Thursday that passing a bill would take a three-fifths majority because of tax provisions, and leaders of the House and Senate believe they have have enough votes lined up.

Only a governor can call a special session and set the agenda. Gov. Tate Reeves’ Office announced the governor would not make an announcement on Monday about a special session for lawmakers to discuss the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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