In or out? Supervisors discuss medical marijuana options

Published 9:53 am Thursday, February 17, 2022

Opting out of the state’s upcoming medical marijuana program is an option counties and cities in Mississippi have, but according to readings of the bill passed earlier this month, card holders will still be able to possess the substance even if governing bodies in their area opted out.

During Wednesday’s Pearl River County Board of Supervisors meeting, board attorney Joe Montgomery said that according to his interpretation of the bill signed by Gov. Tate Reeves, counties and states have 90 days, or until May 2, to decide if they want to opt out of the program. If they do, it would prevent the establishment of grow sites and dispensaries in those areas, but patients who hold cards issued by their doctor will still be able to possess it.

He added that State Senator Angela Hill, Representative Stacey Wilkes and Representative Jansen Owen did a good job of putting protections in place to ensure the safety of the public.

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Montgomery said he came across several aspects of the bill that stood out. If the county decides to opt out, a public hearing would have to be held where county residents would be able to voice their opinion. Additionally, if the county opts out, residents can file a petition with 1,500 signatures to put the matter on a ballot, then the county would be obligated to put the matter up for a vote within 60 days.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said that if the matter was put on a ballot again, he foresees medical marijuana being voted in within Pearl River County based on the prior vote where a majority of the county voted for it.

That would lead to an additional expense on the county to hold that election, Lumpkin said.

Montgomery said that counties and cities have some options in regard to setting up reasonable regulations for the number of dispensaries and the fees associated with operating it if they opt in.

However, the Mississippi State Department of Health and Mississippi Department of Revenue are still working on their own rules and regulations, which have to be complete within 120 and 150 days respectively, Montgomery said. That leaves a level of unknown to the matter.

Any marijuana products given to card holders must have been grown in Mississippi and that same product can not be sent out of this state. Anyone visiting the state who has a prescription for medical marijuana outside of this state will be allowed to have their prescription filled in Mississippi while visiting the state, but only for a 15-day time period twice in one year, Montgomery said.

Additionally, a prescription for medical marijuana can only be obtained from a licensed doctor, not through an online medical questionnaire.

As an added protection, a medical professional can not set up an office in a dispensary.

In relation to residents having access to medical marijuana should the Board decide to opt out, Board President Sandy Kane Smith said he’s had discussions with Board members in surrounding counties. So far he was informed Stone, Hancock and Forrest Counties intend to participate in the program, meaning if a Pearl River County resident didn’t have access close to home, they could still drive a short distance to have their prescriptions filled.

In relation to a fear that a number of dispensaries would open up in Pearl River County, District III Supervisor Hudson Holliday said the financial aspect of setting up such a business would be a hurdle, especially since there are no grants or subsidies to do so.

Sheriff David Allison asked the Board to consider opting out. He said that even though residents can still possess it, he is concerned the regulatory side of managing dispensaries and growers might fall to law enforcement, creating more work for his staff.

He added that this county is already has a problem with drug abuse and overdose deaths. Also, to his understanding, if one of his deputies pulls over a card holder, they would be restricted from searching that person or their vehicle if they smell marijuana.