Supervisors opt out of manufacture, distribution of medical marijuana

Published 9:02 pm Monday, May 2, 2022

After a nearly two-hour long public hearing held Monday evening, the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to opt out of the medical marijuana program’s manufacture and distribution aspects.

During the public hearing, several people spoke either for or against the county opting in to the program. In all, more than 130 people attended the meeting, of which 80 signed the sheet indicating they wanted the Board to opt out, while 56 signed a sheet indicating they wanted the Board to opt in.

By the end of the meeting, members of the Board made a motion to opt out, which sparked ire from one of the attendees. As the man stood up and shared his disapproval of the Board making a motion to opt out, he became irate, prompting law enforcement to remove him from the premises.

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All members of the Board voted to opt out of those aspects of that program but one, District III Supervisor Hudson Holliday.

Those who spoke in favor of the county opting out citied the outcome of the previous vote, the benefits of having close access to medical marijuana and the boost to the economy such a move would have.

Those who spoke against the matter, expressed fear of the unknown, such as big companies coming to set up large scale shops that would create unpleasant odors or increase the crime rate.

Stormy Ladner said that marijuana use is not like what was described in the movie “Refer Madness,” saying that movie was just propaganda.

“The only thing I’ve seen cannabis users do is raid the fridge a couple of times,” Ladner said.

He and others also spoke about the medicinal benefits for cancer patients. He also issued a warning to the Board if they decide to opt out.

“Just remember, election time is coming up,” Ladner said.

Darlene Adams spoke against the county opting in, saying that even though she deals with pain on a daily basis, she refused the recommendation from medical professional to try medical marijuana. She said if the county decided to opt in, the Sheriff’s Department would have a big problem on its hands.

Curtis Chambers spoke about the passing of his wife, who had cancer. He said that if his wife would have had access to medical marijuana, her transition would have been easier. He said the only thing that would help his wife have an appetite close to the end was hemp oil.

“She died of starvation, but she was still able to eat,” Chambers said.

Chambers, and several others, also asked why they had to attend a public hearing on the matter when a vote was held back in 2020 and the majority voted for medical marijuana. Ernestine McClendon, who said she has voted in every election she could during her 87 years on this earth, said she has never seen the public’s vote disregarded in such a way before.

“If people can’t vote and know it will matter, they will stop doing it. And then what will happen?” McClendon said.

Joshua Temple said his opposition to the county opting in was not that people would have access to medical marijuana, but that the manufacture and distribution would be set up in this county without knowing what the regulations would be from the state. He fears that if those facilities are established in the county, more people would be exposed to marijuana. He added that the “data” shows marijuana causes “psychosis and schizophrenia.” He did not cite the “data.”

Tamra Steiner opposed the county opting out because that would mean Pearl River County residents would have to drive further to get their prescriptions filled. She also suggested that if the county is concerned the facilities would be too big, the county could use the state’s system to set the top tier to keep the footprint small.

Tim Hall Sr. said that his fear is marijuana is considered a gateway drug and he wants to see the regulations the state puts forth before the county takes action. He added that his youngest son died from a drug overdose. While he did not state what drug his son died from, he did say, “He started with marijuana.”

Jodi Albritton said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and is currently prescribed eight medications, some of which are opioids. Many of her current medications have “nasty side effects.” She said that if she had access to safe and legal medical marijuana, she could stop using four of those medications, even an opioid.

By the end of the meeting, the Board closed the public hearing and made a motion to opt out of the manufacture, processing and distribution of medical marijuana.

Supervisors Jason Spence and Malcolm Perry, who previously voiced their intent to opt in to the program, said they sided with opting out because residents will still be able to get medical marijuana, which was the matter on the ballot back in 2020.

During their explanation, a man stood up and yelled, “so we got to vote again, because of y’all?!!”

When his outbursts continued, law enforcement escorted the man outside of the room.

Supervisor Donald Hart said he voted against opting in because he didn’t want to turn the county into a “free for all,” since stiffer regulations and a county zoning ordinance are currently not in place.

Supervisor Hudson Holliday was the only member of the Board to vote to opt in. He asked those in attendance who opposed the matter how someone setting up a grow site or dispensary in a secluded location with plenty of security would affect them, and he added that evidence of marijuana being used as a medicine has been found in ancient tombs going back at least to 500 BC. He speculated that the reason many of those who are opposed to the matter was due to fear.

Sandy Kane Smith said he voted against opting in in part due to the fact the county does not have strict regulations in place. That fact led to the county losing a $400,000 lawsuit in the recent past. He added that since the Mississippi State Department of Health was going to be involved in the regulation side, he had concerns of how effective that state agency would be.

“They won’t even regulate sewer,” Smith said.

The ending vote was 4-1, with Smith, Hart, Perry and Spence voting to opt out and Holiday voting to opt in.

Poplarville’s Board of Aldermen is the only local governmental body to opt in to the program, since Picayune’s City Council also opted out in late April.