State Representative Dana McLean (R-Columbus) discussed medical marijuana’s future, prison reform and other top priorities the Legislature may consider during a speech Tuesday to the Columbus Rotary Club on at Lion Hills Center.
Elected in 2019 to represent portions of Lowndes and Monroe counties, McLean said she is the first woman ever elected to serve District 39. She discussed medical marijuana legislation that may be presented during the next session of the Legislature in 2022.
In January 2020, Initiative 65 to establish a medical marijuana program was placed on the November ballot after more than 200,000 registered voters signed a petition — almost twice as many signatures as required by law.
Voters approved the amendment to the constitution by an almost 3-to-1 margin.
A lawsuit filed to stop the legislation argued the initiative process was invalid because the constitution requires petition signatures to be equally distributed among the state’s five congressional districts. When the state dropped to four congressional districts after the 2000 census, the language was never amended.
In May, the state Supreme Court overturned the citizen-led constitutional amendment that would have established a medical marijuana program.
Justice Josiah Coleman said the current outdated language in the constitution means there is no legal initiative process in the state.
“It wasn’t the medical marijuana that the Supreme Court was saying no to, it was the way the referendum was put together,” McLean said Tuesday.
McLean said the decision as to when to call a potential special session to address these issues lies with Gov. Tate Reeves, who has stated that he will only call for a special session after lawmakers have more details about how to implement a medical marijuana program and address the initiative process.
“So whether we have a special session coming before January to solve this — to me I think it first and foremost has to be done,” McLean said. “I mean, it’s a matter of allowing voters a voice to present issues that they feel that maybe the state Legislature is not handling. I think citizens are outraged and they have a right to be. And I think that’s the number one issue that needs to be fixed.”
McLean said she has attended legislative hearings on medical marijuana and understands both sides of the issue.
“We have doctors on one side that are against it, and then we’ve got those in the medical marijuana industry that are for it,” she said. “Personally, I’m in favor of access, but only for patients who have a true and specific need for this type of treatment. I’m in favor of very, very strict requirements.”
McLean said she is not in favor of patients smoking medical marijuana, instead she thinks it needs to be a pill or chewable form that is distributed by in-state pharmacies, not from out-of-state dispensaries who are more motivated by money.
“I really think that we need to have a handle on it,” she said. “Our municipalities need to be able to decide how many dispensaries can be in that area, how close they can be to schools and that kind of thing. That’s my take on Initiative 65. We have to do something this year about it.”
McLean said criminal justice reform is a “huge thing” the Legislature will be addressing because of the condition of the state’s prisons. She noted how the state Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain is seeking reform.
“I think he’s on track to really try and turn things around and if not, the feds are going to come in just like they did in other states and take her over our prison systems, and then we’ll be on the hook for a huge amount of money,” she said.
A member of the House Judiciary B committee that handles criminal justice reform, McLean said there is discussion about how to better prepare inmates for life outside prison.
“Once they come out, we should have them ready with jobs,” she said. “They weren’t even given a driver’s license when coming out or anything. There are so many simple fixes that could have happened for these people. If they don’t have a place to go, then they stay in prison. It’s just so unfortunate that a lot of things have happened that, to me, you would think, ‘Why can’t that be fixed?’ Well, it should be and it will be.”
McLean reflected on the past legislative term when she endorsed the passage of the Fairness Act, which requires all public schools to separate their sports teams by “biological sex.” In March, Gov. Reeves signed into law a bill aimed at protecting female athletes competing in high school and college sports.
“I understand it’s controversial, however, I have a daughter who was an athlete; growing up as a competitive swimmer,” she said. “I will tell you this, if she had a biological male who identified as a female swimming in the lane next to her, she would not have been a champion in Mississippi for MSMS (Mississippi School of Math and Science). She swam for MSMS and she won both of her races. She was on the All-State team, so I feel strongly about it and I will not apologize at all for backing this because I think it’s super important for girls.”