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Republicans aren’t helping themselves – they should fix medical marijuana now

By: Editor - October 19, 2021

Photo - Associated Press

Quit playing into the hands of the mainstream media who relishes Republican fratricide.

Republicans control Mississippi.  Full stop.  All eight statewide officials and a supermajority in the Legislature.  Medical marijuana is a policy issue that is squarely on them to fix.  And it needs to happen in the next 45 days.

Voters indicated clearly that they wanted medical marijuana after the Legislature refused action on the matter for years.  Agree or not with that or the vehicle they chose (Initiative 65), Mississippi is going to have medical marijuana.  It is just a question now of how and when.

Truthfully, the Mississippi Supreme Court stepping in to stop Initiative 65 was a bit of a gift for Republicans even though it rightfully caused consternation with voters.  It was a chance to fix some substantial governance and regulatory problems with the initiative (that even 65 proponents will now admit) while crafting a more nuanced approach.  Zoning, user fees and basic regulatory oversight were all sorely lacking from the initiative and now those seem to be on the path to being fixed.

Personnel put on the job by leaders in the Legislature have been good.  State Sen. Kevin Blackwell on the Senate side and State Rep. Lee Yancey on the House side got to work and have worked together well from all indications.  They had the backing of Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn, who seem to have communicated pretty well through all of this.  They put together what most in the Legislature and even in the medical marijuana industry think is a really good framework piece of legislation.

Now comes the hard part.  Getting it over the goal line.

As effective as the process seems to have been to this point, Republicans are starting to mangle the offense inside the red zone.

There are a few things to keep in mind here.

First, Governor Tate Reeves has to call the special session.  To do that, he generally has to be on board with the bill, convinced that the Legislature will come in quickly, do its job and be done. If ever there was a cost-conscious governor, it is Reeves.

Second, the bill needs to match some sort of industry norms.  Medical marijuana is a reality in over 30 states and Mississippi should not be on an island from a regulatory standpoint.  Reportedly one of the sticking points between Reeves and legislative leaders are the levels of THC allowed for medicinal purposes.  It appears that all else is pretty much “in the can.”  Reeves should probably back off of that wish given the precedents in other states, but that leads to my last point.

Finally, Republicans need to craft a situation where everyone politically can get a win.  Legislative Republicans who may want to reflexively “stick it to” the Governor are being dumb.  Going to Geoff Pender and attempting to use the media to back the Governor in a corner is politically stupid.  Really stupid.  And Pender’s publication and other publications like his are all too willing to provide the ammunition in Republican fratricide.  These media outlets mean Republicans harm.  They will politically weaponize COVID, medical marijuana or anything else they can get their hands on to divide Republicans and help their friends/benefactors in the Democrat party, and they are all too happy to help goad Republicans into hurting each other to that end.

Gunn, Hosemann, their top lieutenants and their media folks are smart enough to know that if medical marijuana finds its way to a regular session, it is going to be a mess.  Exhibit A was the ridiculous op-ed from the Daily Journal this past weekend suggesting the linkage of Medicaid expansion to income tax elimination.   That is the sort of ridiculous policy that awaits Republicans if they allow a high leverage public policy item like medical marijuana to linger into the regular session.

Republicans needs to get together to fix this and fix it now in a special session.  They need to stop talking to and through the mainstream media, and be smart enough to craft a way to win for everyone.  Reeves will not call them in if he feels backed into a corner.

Remember that the greatest play in football is the one where the quarterback takes a knee.  It means all of the individual efforts have converged for a collective win and the team as a whole can celebrate.  Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn need to get in a room and figure out how this is going to play out where everyone gets something politically in a manner that produces the best possible outcome for the people of Mississippi.

Republicans should stop shooting themselves in the foot and get this in their rear view mirror quickly so they can move on to bigger and better things.

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