Michel favors limiting the growth of marijuana


State lawmakers are close to reaching a compromise on legislation to create a state medical marijuana program and a special session could be called within the next two weeks, some lawmakers have said.

“It's at the total whim of the governor to call us into session,” said State Sen. J. Walter Michel of whether a special session will convene any time soon. Michel said he does not know when or if a special session will be called. 

Talk of a special session has been looming on the medical marijuana issue since the state Supreme Court in May overturned a medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in the 2020 general election. The high court sided with Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler who challenged the process by which the measure was placed on ballots and overturned Initiative 65 that was approved by 58% of the vote, according to certified election results.

Lawmakers immediately vowed to create a state medical marijuana program and urged Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session. Reeves has said he will not call a special session until the Senate and House have a proposal they agree on as a special session is estimated to cost taxpayers $35,000 per day.

“He wanted to have understanding, so we can get in and out in one or two days,” Michel said of a special session. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers have spent the summer preparing for the issue. In June the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held three hearings with testimony from public health experts to get input on creating a medical marijuana program, Michel said.

While Michel said he supports a medical marijuana program he wants to do it right.

“The devil is in the details as to how you craft the legislation as to whether it becomes pure medical marijuana or if it is disguised as medical marijuana, but it really is recreational marijuana,” Michel said. 

Initiative 65 did not allow enough regulation over marijuana growing operations or dispensaries, Michel said, and those are two details he would like to see address in legislation creating the state’s program.

“It was about to be the Wild-Wild West as to who could grow it and where it could be grown,” Michel said of the medical marijuana program outlined in Initiative 65. “I think what you will see in the current legislation is that we deal with, Should we be growing outside or indoors?”

Michel said he favors limiting growing operations to indoors.

“If it is grown indoors, it is easier for us to regulate,” Michel said. “Also, if in fact we are growing medical marijuana, which is exactly what we will do, then it would be more efficient for the people who have invested the money to grow it because when you grow it indoors, you can grow about three crops, whereas with our temperature in Mississippi if you are growing it outdoors, you can basically just get one crop per year.”

State Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr. said he sees the medical marijuana issue as an opportunity to help people in need and that Initiative 65 had sought to eliminate too much state regulation.

“The referendum passed by the public was trying to keep it out of the cold, hard hands of the Legislature where there are more restrictions placed on it,” Blackmon said. “Mississippi is making real steps toward a recognition that medical marijuana’s time has come, and I think it's fairly accepted by the legislature as you know by the vote that took place.”

Blackmon said he believes that if marijuana can help people who are suffering it should be readily available to them.

“Where people are in pain, where people are suffering and we can provide relief to them we should do so and medical marijuana at this stage and what I’m talking about is the general use,” Blackmon said. “Medical marijuana is something some practitioners now view to be a safe and precious type of drug that can help many, many people, cancer patients in particular, find great relief.”

Regulations are necessary to keep any state-created medical marijuana program from becoming a recreational marijuana program, Michel said, but Blackmon said he believes the backers of Initiative 65 were trying to keep special interest from entering the equation.

“It (state legislation) would be drafted in such a way that it would eliminate the individuals who might be involved in the dispensing, the transportation and storage of medical marijuana,” Blackmon said. “Those are the kinds of things they were trying to avoid because when you have the legislature involved, special interests are going to take over and that happens in the legislative process and you may not get a public-friendly, citizen-friendly type of statute.”

Michel said he would prefer Mississippi create what he called a true medical marijuana program that would require a doctor’s prescription of a non-smokable form of medical marijuana that would be sold through a pharmacy like any other prescribed medications.

Michel also said he favors allowing municipalities to opt-out of allowing marijuana dispensaries in their cities.

“I’m in favor of giving the municipality the right to pass regulations that it not be dispensed inside the city limits of their city,” Michel said.

Michel said he has heard that both the House and Senate are nearing a compromise and he will be ready for a special session.

“It's my opinion that the last bill was recreational marijuana cloaked as medical marijuana, and I think a lot of people who voted for the constitutional amendment really felt like they were voting for people who really need marijuana for medical purposes and not for recreational purposes,” Michel said. “There have been a lot of discussions that statewide the vote was over 70% (with Initiative 65 and alternate Initiative 65A combined), but I was able to go to the Madison County Circuit Clerk’s office and get the breakdown of my senate district in Madison County. You might be interested to know it was 58% who favored it. It was not 70%, so it was less of a mandate in my district, which includes most of Ridgeland and a big, big chunk of Madison and now part of Gluckstadt which is now a city now.”

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