Wesson out of marijuana program
By Bob Arnold
Wesson has formally opted out of the state's new medical marijuana program by a unanimous vote of its Board of Aldermen, although Mayor Alton Shaw says he cannot envision an organization being able to sell, cultivate or process marijuana within the boundaries of the town under existing ordinances or state law, which prohibits them within 1,500 feet of schools, churches or daycare facilities.
With the action, according to the Mayor, any business or organization that wants to sell, cultivate or process marijuana for medical purposes would have to bring an acceptable plan to the Board of Aldermen to formally vote Wesson back into the state program following public hearings and any required zoning law changes. A special election called on petition of 1,500 or 20 per cent of Wesson voters could also overturn the action, he pointed out.
The Aldermen made their decision at their April meeting following a public hearing in which some 15 participants expressed fears around selling medical marijuana in the town, with many of the questions and concerns about its resale to addicts or young people, public intoxication, public safety and its potential for recreational use reflecting misunderstanding about the new state medical marijuana law as intended with limiting regulations which are expected to be strictly enforced by state agencies, although there are uncertainties as the law is being implemented and specific regulations written:
Medical marijuana patients/users are limited to persons with 22 medical conditions, including cancer and epilepsy, and they must be certified by physicians, certified nurse practitioners or optometrists who evaluate them in-person with follow-ups every six months. Qualifications are stricter for those aged 18-25.
Medical marijuana patients/users must present practitioner certifications to the Mississippi Department of Health, registering with the agency, to receive cards that allow them to purchase the drug, cultivated and processed by state-regulated organizations, from state-regulated dispensaries.
The medical marijuana recipient is limited to three ounces per month, or about 2.8 grams per day -- a miniscule amount that would not be a profitable supply source for the criminal drug trade in recreational-use marijuana.
Existing county and municipal public intoxication and DUI laws and local ordinances on locations of businesses remain in force and obtain to medical marijuana patients/users.
Strict reporting requirements, still being written by state agencies, will apply to cannabis sales, cultivating and processing organizations and practitioners.
Cannabis organizations (sales, cultivating, processing) cannot be within 1,500 feet of a school, church, or daycare facilities.
The Mississippi State Department of Health is in charge of issuing cards, as well as promulgating rules regarding packaging and advertising.
In introductory comments before the public hearing, Mayor Shaw said he favored medical, but not recreational marijuana use, was neutral about Wesson's participation in the state medical marijuana program and would follow the guidance of citizens. In subsequent discussions, the Mayor conceded he had concerns about the medical marijuana program's uncertainties prior to the state law's implementations and the short time-fame facing counties and municipalities to develop systems and revise ordinances related to implementing and enforcing the law. He pointed out that a major law firm in the state is recommending that small towns and counties initially opt out of program participation and opt in later, if they desire, as they can draw on experiences of others.
Mississippi Cities and counties have until the first week of May to decide whether they want medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators or processing facilities. To date, Pass Christian, Ridgeland, Brandon, Gluckstadt, Flora, Pontotoc, Madison and Clinton are among communities besides Wesson that have opted out of participation in the state medical marijuana program. Locally, a special election looms in Lincoln County where supervisors voted to opt of the program after a contentious public hearing in which proponents of the program argued against their decision. Brookhaven, Copiah County, Hazlehurst and Crystal Springs so far remain in the program. The Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association has been leading efforts to gather signatures in some of the communities that have voted not to participate in the program.