House adopts medical marijuana alternative

By Steve Wilson
March 11, 2020

A legislative alternative to a medical marijuana initiative that critics say is designed to kill it passed the Mississippi House Tuesday.

House Concurrent Resolution 39 — sponsored by Rep. Trey Lamar (R-Senatobia) — passed 72-49 after several rounds of contentious debate on a largely party-line vote with most Republicans voting yes for the alternative. 

If the resolution passes the Senate, it will appear on the bottom of the ballot in November alongside Initiative 65 since it doesn’t require a signature from Gov. Tate Reeves.

On the floor, Lamar said his bill was about creating a better program that wasn’t an entryway to recreational marijuana.

“If we’re going to have a program, we need to have a proper program,” Lamar said on the floor.

The legislature has had plenty of time to act. Since 2010, there have been 11 bills that either would’ve created or were related to the creation of a medical marijuana program and none made it past the first committee deadline.

Rep. Joel Bomgar (R-Madison) is part of the Medical Marijuana 2020 steering committee and has authored several unsuccessful bills that would’ve created a medical marijuana pilot program. He said on the floor that the legislative alternative was intended to kill the initiative and that sponsors of HCR 39 were being disingenuous about its true purpose.

House Speaker Philip Gunn said in a news release that the alternative gives people in favor of medical marijuana a responsible pathway to having it. He also said that Initiative 65 comes extremely close to legalizing recreational marijuana. He also didn't like that Initiative 65 doesn’t allow the state to use the tax revenue from the program. 

Initiative 65 would amend the state’s constitution to create a medical marijuana program in Mississippi and more than 220,000 statewide signed the petition to put it on the ballot. For ballot initiatives in Mississippi, the certified signature requirement is 106,190 total with at least 21,238 from each of the five congressional districts as they were in 2000. 

The medical marijuana under Initiative 65 program would be administered by the state Department of Health, whose board opposes the ballot initiative. 

HCR 39 would create a much less expansive program, with the number of producers strictly limited. The smoking of marijuana would also be limited to those with terminal conditions. 

Initiative 65 would keep the revenues generated by medical marijuana in the program to pay for the state Department of Health to implement and enforce the rules and regulations in the program.

Since the beginning of the state’s ballot initiative system in 1972, only one legislative alternative has made it to a ballot and that was for Initiative 42, which would’ve given the Hinds County Chancery Court the power to appropriate more state money for individual school districts through injunctions. 

Neither 42 nor the legislatively-approved alternative 42A passed (46.98 percent of voters in 2015 voted for 42). The difference between the two (8,933 votes or two percentage points) wouldn’t have been enough to get the original initiative passed into law.

Under Initiative 65, patients with debilitating conditions seeking to be part of the program would be required to get an examination by a physician and then be referred to a licensed and regulated treatment center. At these centers, either the patient or caregiver for a disabled or home-bound patient could buy limited quantities of marijuana or related products.


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