‘Brookhaven is in’ — City does not opt out of medical marijuana sales

Published 3:56 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2022

“If you didn’t opt out, you’re in. Brookhaven is in,” City Board attorney Bobby Moak told Brookhaven’s Board of Aldermen Tuesday night. 

Tuesday was the deadline for Mississippi cities and counties to opt out of allowing businesses that grow or sell medical marijuana to operate in their jurisdictions.

According to the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, local governments could opt out by a vote of the board or council within 90 days of the bill’s passage, which ended May 3. Aldermen opted not to vote, allowing the deadline to pass.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Attorney Moak told the Board there were “a couple of major things” they should keep in mind. 

“The Department of Health has not given full and final regulations and will not do so until June 1,” Moak said. “The City Council has not zoned (for this) and you will have the opportunity to do that.”

With recommendations from the Zoning Board, the Board of Aldermen has the ability to limit where dispensaries can be located.

“We can prohibit them within certain areas?” asked Alderman-at-large Don Underwood.

“”Absolutely. Absolutely you can,” Moak replied. 

Where governments opted out, 20 percent of 1,500 voters (whichever is fewer) may then petition to put the issue on a local ballot, and an election must be conducted within 60 days. 

The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors voted to opt out. At least one group — Stop the Opt Lincoln County — is actively recruiting signatures on a petition to challenge that decision. The Board can choose to opt back in even without an election.

Leaders across the state who ultimately opted out gave several reasons for their decisions, including concerns about regulation of the program, impacts on law enforcement and public safety, and zoning issues.

In any community that permits medical cannabis, dispensaries must be located more than 1,000 feet away from churches, schools and daycares, and cannot be within 1,500 feet of another dispensary. 

Ten counties opted out — Lincoln, Calhoun, George, Lauderdale, Leflore, Newton, Neshoba, Pontotoc, Tippah and Pearl River. Seventeen municipalities opted out — Amory, Brandon, Clinton, Ecru, Flora, Gluckstadt, Greenwood, Horn Lake, Lucedale, Madison, Noxapater, New Albany, Pass Christian, Pontotoc, Ridgeland, Southaven and Sumrall. 

In June, the Mississippi State Department of Health will begin accepting applications for dispensaries, registering practitioners and issuing registry ID cards. MSDH will also start licensing non-dispensary medical cannabis businesses. One month after that process begins, the state will begin licensing dispensaries. 

But the Brookhaven Board’s attorney said aldermen should expect immediate interest from people who want to operate dispensaries.

“You could have people tomorrow start coming to (City Clerk Samantha Melancon’s) office and say, ‘Hey, I want to sign up to sell cannabis,’” Moak said. 

At 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, one person was waiting for the Clerk’s office to open, and did sign a registry declaring intent to open a dispensary. 

By law, the registry must be available to anyone who wants to apply, and — if applicants are approved by the State — the prospective dispensary owners will be given opportunity to request approval of possible locations.

“Don’t do anything with (the registry) until the (State) gives you the full and final regulations, which should come down June 1,” Moak told the Board. “Then zone it. You get to say where it goes, what time they open, what time they close and where they sit. Then adopt that as your ordinance … you don’t have to be rushed.”

Aldermen voted unanimously to support the suggestion.