Gov. Tate Reeves

Legislators had years to pass a medical marijuana bill. Blaming Reeves for reviewing for 4 weeks is disingenuous.

A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.

We have surely all heard that quip before, but in today’s world such sober thinking is often lost in the self-motivated, social media driven politics we are now forced to entertain as the norm when, in fact, what should be valued is careful deliberation and a steady hand.

While it is true that Governor Tate Reeves now holds the cards as to if, or when, a special session is called to implement a medical marijuana program in Mississippi, it is disingenuous to blame him for any perceived delay as it has always been up to the Legislature to act on the issue.

Assuming reports are true, the Governor’s office has only had a draft bill for the program for four weeks and has been negotiating in good faith with lead lawmakers since that time, with what has been called a “final draft” only in place since last Wednesday. This notion of the “final draft” being touted by Senator Kevin Blackwell and Representative Lee Yancey. To date, the Governor’s office has not recognized the bill as such.

The Mississippi Legislature has known of the push for medical marijuana in the state for at least three years. That is when Initiative 65 was first filed in July 2018. The issue was making its way around the Capitol for a number of years prior to the initiative being filed.

Yet, the Legislature as a whole never chose to bring it to the forefront of either chamber’s agenda, even after it was approved in January 2020 for a place on the November ballot. Lawmakers chose, instead, to offer an alternative to the initiative, expressing concerns over the drug being placed in the state constitution and the lack of legislative oversight.

Then, after Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s lawsuit was filed, perhaps reading the tea leaves, the State Senate attempted to pass a bill in the 2021 regular session that would become law and implement a medical marijuana program if Butler’s lawsuit proved to be fruitful at the Mississippi Supreme Court. But the House rolled the dice and refused to take the bill up before sending lawmakers home for the summer.

Ultimately, just weeks later in May 2021, the state Supreme Court did strike down the initiative process by which the medical marijuana program made its way to the ballot, effectually punting the matter back to a group of reluctant legislators who could have already saved the state and its voters a lot of money, time and energy if they would have handled the issue themselves in the first place.

Truth be told, Republican legislators in Mississippi have slowed roll this issue, uncertain of how to balance the politics of allowing the use of a Schedule 1 narcotic that still remains illegal on the federal level with claiming to be tough on crime and pro-law enforcement, not to mention the myriad of laws from gun ownership to employment to banking that will be impacted by this program’s implementation.

And yes, now-Governor Reeves held the gavel in the State Senate as Lt. Governor in 2018 when Initiative 65 was filed. A politically unaware person could argue that a medical marijuana bill could have been taken up in the 2019 legislative session following Initiative 65’s filing but that was not going to happen in the political environment at that time. With 2019 being an election year, no Republican – or Democrat for that matter – was itching for a fight beyond getting in and out of session as soon as possible to get back home and campaign. Such is the nature of the beast every four years. And even if the Legislature had passed such a bill, it may well have faced a veto by then-Governor Phil Bryant.

No, the only real opportunities for medical marijuana to have been debated and passed by the Mississippi Legislature was during either the 2020 or 2021 sessions when Reeves was Governor, and lawmakers as a whole failed to gauge the winds on the issue enough to see that it get done as voters obviously intended.

Lawmakers have had two full years to draft an exhaustive medical marijuana bill. Running to the media, who will only be sympathetic to Republicans when they attack other Republicans, to attack Governor Reeves for slow rolling the special session is yet another example of how bad Republicans are at media.

A “damn the torpedoes” approach to medical marijuana is unwise given the public policy and political complexities of the matter. Governor Reeves is right to take the time he needs to get the best possible outcome for Mississippi and for the agencies he oversees before calling a special session.