By Alyssa Schnugg
A handful of local residents spoke to the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors Monday night asking them not to opt-out of allowing medical marijuana facilities for growing or selling medical marijuana, known as dispensaries.
The hearing was held at 5 p.m. at the Lafayette County Chancery Building during the Board’s regular meeting.
The recently passed Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act gives cities and counties 90 days to opt-out of allowing medical marijuana facilities for growing or selling, known as dispensaries.
If the Board votes to opt-out, it prevents the dispensaries from opening in the county; however, patients who hold cards issued by a physician to use marijuana for medical purposes can still possess it. They would have to receive it at dispensaries inside the Oxford city limits or in another neighboring county.
President Mike Roberts said the purpose of the hearing was to gain public input and there was no action taken during the public hearing.
“We felt we needed to hold a public hearing to allow the community to address their concerns or their favoritism or whatever is on their minds about the potential opt-out,” Roberts said.
Supervisor Brent Larson clarified that whether the Board eventually votes to opt-out of allowing dispensaries, those people issued medical marijuana cards are not prohibited from obtaining their allotment from dispensaries in other cities or counties.
Local attorney Roberts Wilson spoke in favor of not opting out of allowing dispensaries.
“I absolutely believe this can be done safely,” he said. “There are a lot of benefits. In other jurisdictions (with medical marijuana programs) it has reduced alcohol sales by 15 percent. Reduces the use of dangerous drugs like Xanex and Klonapin by 45 percent. There is a lot of data that shows it reduces crime in the area of the dispensaries because of all the security.”
Wilson said other benefits include providing jobs in Lafayette County.
In the 2020 election, 67 percent of Lafayette County voters voted in favor of the medical marijuana program. All five districts voted in favor of the program.
“Someone asked me why we were in a hurry. Well, waited long enough and the voters have spoken,” Wilson said.
Sheriff Joey East spoke to the Board in favor of opting out – for now – to allow the county time to see what effects the program will have on law enforcement and what guidelines will be put in place.
“What we do know about medical marijuana is the state has given you 90 days to opt-out and if you don’t opt-out, then you can’t go back,” he said. “If there are problems you never get to reconsider or go back. But what the state did do is give themselves 120 days before they’re going to tell you how they’re going to regulate it; how they’re going to watch it; what the standards will be. Will it be an open front, like Lyndsey’s Chevron where you walk in and it’s displayed or will it be a closed front where it’s closed and you come in and show your card and go back? They haven’t even told us how they will regulate it.”
East said he doesn’t know if anything will go wrong or if crime will go up around dispensaries.
“We just don’t know yet,” he said. “What does it hurt to take a conservative approach and see what will go on?”
East said he reached out to city officials who indicated that the city will allow dispensaries.
“We have no pharmacies in the county or doctors’ offices,” he said. “So you have to go into the city now (for medications and doctor appointments). What I worry about, is that we have 670 square miles and 48 deputies. The city has 85 to 90 officers on 26 square miles. We have a lot of areas to cover.”
East also mentioned the county will not get any sales taxes from the sale of medical marijuana if dispensaries are allowed.
“We don’t have the rules or regulations yet,” he said. “As far as cultivating or growing, the state has given you regulations. They have explained you can zone in certain areas. I think we opt-out for right now and watch and at any time, we can opt-in.”
Other residents who spoke in favor of not opting out spoke about the loss of local people being able to participate in the business side of the program.
Leslie Coleman said she believes if Lafayette County opts out, the county is offering opportunities to those in surrounding counties to get involved.
“If we wait, I think that gives big companies the opportunity to come in,” she said. “I’ve already been approached since I live on a big farm and have the space. But that’s not what I’d like to see happen. I’d like to see local people given the chance to participate on a smaller scale rather than allowing other counties to benefit.”
Roberts said there is a lot of misconception on what the Board is going to do.
“The public hearing is strictly for us to get information,” he said. “I don’t know where this is going to go. I wanted to hear from others and we’ll take all of it into account. I encourage people to reach out. I’m open to conversation and learning more.”
Roberts said when and if the Board decides to vote on whether to opt-out, the date and time of that meeting will be noticed to the public.
If the county votes to opt-out, residents can file a petition with 1,500 signatures to put the matter on a ballot for a special election within 60 days of the Board’s vote to opt-out. The county would absorb all costs associated with the special election.