County to put marijuana on ballot after successful petition

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

DeAndrea Delaney, a Mississippi businesswoman with companies that sell hemp products carries a big green marijuana leaf flag May 25, 2021, in an area near both the Mississippi Capitol and the state Supreme Court building in Jackson after speaking at a protest about a recent state Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Mississippi's initiative process and overturned a medical marijuana initiative that voters approved in November 2020. 

Lauderdale County residents will have another opportunity to decide whether or not to allow medical marijuana businesses after a successful petition put the issue up for a vote.

In a work session Thursday, Board of Supervisors Attorney Lee Thaggard said the petition has garnered more than the required signatures and has been certified by the circuit clerk.

“They have 1,586 qualified electors who have signed a petition, which means that by law you have to approve an order to put it on the ballot,” he told the county supervisors.

Under the law passed by the state legislature earlier this year, Thaggard said the vote had to be held within 60 days, which would allow for the issue to be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

The Board of Supervisors voted in May to opt out of allowing marijuana cultivation, processing and dispensaries to set up shop in the county. At the time, Board President Jonathan Wells said he thought medical marijuana facilities should be in the city.

Wells said on Thursday his belief that medical marijuana was a better fit inside the city limits still held true. While the city receives sales tax from purchases made within the city limits, the county does not get any of the tax from sales made within the county, he said.

Supervisor Josh Todd agreed, adding that by opening up the county for medical marijuana the competition could cause the City of Meridian to miss out on tax dollars.

“I’m afraid we’re going to hurt the city,” he said.

Another concern shared by the board was that the lack of zoning within the county could make it difficult to regulate where medical marijuana industry set up. Thaggard said state law includes some zoning restrictions, such as not having a grow facility, processing plant or dispensary within 1,500 feet of a school or church, but otherwise there would be little to no restrictions on where medical marijuana businesses could open shop.

Unlike the supervisors’ decision in May, Lauderdale County voters will not be able to pick and choose between allowing cultivation, processing and dispensaries, Thaggard said.

“It’s all or none,” he said.

Supervisor Joe Norwood said he wasn’t surprised by the petition as the county supervisors were informed a petition had been circulating even before they voted to opt out.

“We knew this was coming,” he said.

Although all registered voters in Lauderdale County will be able to vote on the issue, the decision will impact medical marijuana in only the unincorporated areas of the county. The City of Meridian, which already allows medical marijuana, and the Town of Marion, which does not, will not be impacted by the vote.

Neither the board of supervisors’ decision to opt out nor the ballot initiative will impact residents’ ability to get a medical marijuana card or use marijuana as prescribed.

Under the state statute, Thaggard said the voters will have the opportunity to vote yes or no on medical marijuana. Once the vote is held, he said, the issue will not be able to come up for another vote for two years.

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