Mississippi legislators begin session, face marijuana debate
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators began their three-month session Tuesday, and the mother of a man with chronic medical problems implored them to create a medical marijuana program, despite objections from Gov. Tate Reeves.
The Republican governor has said a proposed program would allow access to large quantities of the drug.
Creation of a medical marijuana program could be one of the first issues that the Republican-controlled House and Senate consider during the session's opening weeks.
Angie Calhoun, founder and CEO of the Mississippi Cannabis Patients Alliance, said Tuesday that her 25-year-old son, Austin Calhoun, has experienced debilitating medical problems for several years because of chronic Lyme disease. She said 17 prescription drugs did not work for him, and he moved to Colorado to have access to marijuana to ease his pain.
“Without it, his symptoms do return,” Calhoun said during a news conference outside the Capitol.
Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in November 2019. State Health Department officials spent months working to create a program, with the goal of having one in place by mid-2020. That effort was derailed when the state Supreme Court ruled in May that Mississippi's initiative process was out-of-date and that the medical marijuana initiative was not properly on the ballot.
After the Supreme Court issued its decision, Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of Olive Branch and Republican Rep. Lee Yancey of Brandon led discussions about creating a medical marijuana program. House and Senate leaders wanted Reeves to call a special legislative session to put the proposal into law. Reeves said last month that he wants revisions.
Calhoun said patients need to be able to buy “safe, effective and tested medical cannabis” in Mississippi.
“Each day that passes seems like an eternity to patients who are suffering and to the caregivers who watch them suffer,” she said.
Legislative leaders said Tuesday that other issues up for debate during the session will be a pay raise for teachers, a reduction in taxes and the possibility of bonus pay for medical workers who have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early in the session, the House and Senate are expected to revise Mississippi's four U.S. House districts to account for population changes revealed by the 2020 census. Late in the session, they will consider redrawing the 122 districts for the state House and 52 districts for the state Senate.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.