By Alyssa Schnugg
With medical marijuana dispensaries opening up in Oxford this week, local law enforcement agencies have been learning how to deal with legal issues in regard to people with medical marijuana cards now able to legally possess cannabis.
“We’ve been doing training with the ABC,” said Lafayette County Sheriff Joey East.
The sheriff’s department and the Oxford Police Department have met with state officials from the Mississippi Department of Revenue’s Alcohol Beverage Control Enforcement Division which handles the licensing, regulating and enforcement of laws relating to the medical cannabis program.
While medical marijuana is now legal on a state level, marijuana is still considered illegal by federal law, which can be confusing for law enforcement.
“The real answers will come as officers begin to encounter people during stops,” East said. “We will wait and see and continue to learn the process and figure it out, sometimes on the fly.”
OPD Chief Jeff McCutchen and East said patients with medical marijuana cards can help law enforcement if they’re pulled over and they have cannabis in their possession.
“They must have their medical cannabis card and the product should remain in the packaging that they purchased it in,” McCutchen said. “That allows us to keep track of things. We can see if someone is ‘doctor shopping,’ going around to different dispensaries and somehow bypassing the checks. We know they can only have a certain amount.”
“Tell the officer you hold a medical marijuana card and present it,” East added.
Using marijuana, even for medical reasons, while driving, or being under the influence of it while driving, is still illegal.
Public consumption is prohibited under the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act and does not allow for smoking medical cannabis in a public place or in a motor vehicle.
Some places that receive federal funding, like the University of Mississippi, will not allow marijuana in any form, for any reason, on their property, even if someone is a legal card holder.
In December, the University of Mississippi sent out a notice reminding students, staff and faculty that the school’s policies prohibit the possession or consumption of marijuana on campus. Because the university receives federal funding for financial aid, grants and contracts for research, the university is subject to federal laws that require drug-free workplaces and prohibit the use of illegal drugs on campus or at university-related events and activities.
McCutchen said there are still a lot of unanswered questions in regard to the new laws.
“We know people can’t use it in public or while driving,” he said.
Some dispensaries are telling patients to keep their packages sealed in their vehicles, like when they purchase alcohol until they get home; however, McCutchen said he understands there will be times when patients have the product in their vehicle in an opened container.
“It should remain in its original container,” he said. “But we don’t really know if it needs to be sealed. People may be driving on vacation or going to another private location … we’re still learning about those areas of the law.”
East and McCutchen said their departments will continue to learn and receive training to make sure the people who are legally obtaining their cannabis are protected while enforcing laws for those trying to go around the system.
“I’m hoping for the best. I know some people are hurting and I hope this helps them,” East said. “We’re going to keep moving forward, just like with anything else.”