TUPELO • Key political figures are charting different paths as they navigate the fallout of a state Supreme Court ruling that voided a popular medical marijuana program and struck down the ability of voters to directly amend the state constitution.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said on Tuesday that he supports legislative action to create a medical marijuana program as a replacement for the Initiative 65 program voters approved last year.
According to video, Hosemann told reporters there may be some “urgency” to address medical cannabis. He is much less keen on quick action to begin the revival of the voter initiative process.
But as a policy goal, Hosemann does “support re-enacting the ballot initiative process,” according to a statement the first-term Republican lieutenant governor released Monday.
By contrast, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has openly called for a special session to kickstart the restoration of the voter initiative process, but has been silent as to his preferred course of action on medical marijuana.
A split between the positions staked out by Hosemann and Gunn echoes this past legislation session. Hosemann repeatedly championed legislation that would have created a medical marijuana program to go into place in the event of an adverse ruling on Initiative 65 from the court. The House, under Gunn’s leadership, took no action on this Senate legislation.
Only Gov. Tate Reeves can actually call a special session and would set the terms of what would be discussed in such a session.
Speaking with Y’all Politics on Monday, the GOP governor struck a tone that sounded more like Hosemann. Reeves said a special session for medical marijuana is a "possibility," but didn't look eager to go along with calls for a special session that would include initiative process.
One complicating factor: The Legislature cannot restore the initiative process on its own. The process for a voter initiative is outlined by the constitution. As currently written, the Supreme Court said a valid initiative process can only occur when the state has five congressional districts, as opposed to the current four districts.
The Legislature would need to rewrite this part of the Constitution and then place the proposed amendment on the ballot for approval by voters.
There won’t be a general election in Mississippi until next year.
Other state political figures have offered their views on the matter as well. Secretary of State Michael Watson, a first-term Republican, is the only elected leader to have clearly called for a special session involving both medical marijuana and the voter initiative process.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat from Nettleton, has vocally adopted the cause of the voter initiative process.
“If restoring our rights as citizens to amend our state constitution through petition isn’t important enough for Governor Tate Reeves to call a special session of the Legislature, what ever will be?” Presley said Tuesday in a statement on Twitter.
According to reporting by the Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Hosemann is concerned about the price tag of a special session.
“Tell Brandon if he has that in his budget, that will be fine,” Hosemann told the Commercial Dispatch in an interview. “It's $35,000 a day for a special session. The question is, is it well spent? My answer would be no.”
Hosemann took a more measured tone in the written statement released by his office Tuesday: “Because Special Sessions are expensive, my preference is to approach this situation in an organized fashion so when we do return we can minimize costs to taxpayers.”