Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann on Tuesday said he supports having a state medical marijuana program and voters having a right to change the state constitution, both of which the Mississippi Supreme Court shot down last week.
Hosemann said that “If the governor chooses to call the Legislature back into special session, the Senate will be ready.” But he said there is more urgency in dealing with medical marijuana than reinstating voters’ right to ballot initiatives, and he questioned whether there is a need for a special session for the latter.
Conversely, Hosemann’s counterpart in the House, fellow Republican Philip Gunn, has called on the governor to call a special session to deal with voters’ ballot initiative rights, but has been silent on the medical marijuana program being reinstated.
Hosemann said that before the governor calls any special session, lawmakers need to be on the same page with an “organized, clear, common-sense approach” so they don’t malinger in Jackson and cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a day in special session expenses. But to date, the Republican lieutenant governor, House speaker and governor have had difficulties getting on the same page with major issues.
Meanwhile, many voters are angered by the high court striking down the medical marijuana Initiative 65 they overwhelmingly approved in November. One group, called “We are the 74,” organized just days ago, had close to 4,000 members on its Facebook page Wednesday, and is planning a rally May 25 at the state Supreme Court building in downtown Jackson. The 74 refers to the 74% of the vote that Initiative 65 received, compared to an alternative amendment on the November ballot.
“We are here to serve as a rally point and to fight for the voices of Mississippians to be heard,” a post on the site said. “Recent events have shown us that now more than ever we need to walk arm in arm and show our elected officials that the POWER still lies with the PEOPLE!”
Many lawmakers and other public officials, including House Speaker Philip Gunn, are calling on Gov. Tate Reeves to bring lawmakers back to Jackson in special session to deal with reinstating voters’ ballot initiative rights, reinstating a medical marijuana program, or both. Reeves has not said definitively when, or if, he would call lawmakers back.
Hosemann said that reinstating the state’s ballot initiative process — which allows voters to take matters in hand when elected officials won’t do something — would require not only action by the Legislature, but voters approving it. He said that although lawmakers could set a special election, this could not realistically be done before the scheduled November 2022 elections, so lawmakers could tackle the issue in their regular session starting in January. He said there is more urgency for medical marijuana, because there are patients suffering who could be treated with the drug.
Hosemann noted that the Senate last session, twice, voted for an “alternative” medical marijuana program that could have been a backstop to the one voters adopted when the high court shot it down. At the time, many Initiative 65 supporters viewed the move as lawmakers trying to usurp the program voters approved.
Hosemann commented on the issue on Tuesday before a meeting in Flowood with local elected officials from Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties.
State Rep. Jill Ford, R-Madison, attended the meeting. She was vocally opposed to the Initiative 65 medical marijuana program, and said she was pleased with the Supreme Court striking it down. She said she is not opposed to medical marijuana in general, but disagreed with specifics of Initiative 65 and with it being in the constitution instead of state law. She said that, “I’m going to write a (medical marijuana) bill in January, if we don’t pursue it before then.”
Ford noted that special sessions are costly, and she is unsure whether one is required for either medical marijuana or reinstating voters’ initiative rights. She said she is uncertain whether she supports voters having a right to ballot initiative.
“That’s a hard question to answer,” Ford said. “I can’t give you a yes or no. I see what California (where ballot initiatives are common) has become. I don’t want that for Mississippi.”