By Randy Bell
Clinton could soon have a medical cannabis ordinance, even though those businesses currently can’t legally operate in the city. The Board of Aldermen voted in April to opt out of the new state law which authorizes the production and sale of medical cannabis in Mississippi, but it’s being forced to take a new look at the issue after the City received petitions which appear to have a sufficient number of signatures to prompt a medical cannabis referendum.
“No board wants to be caught unprepared when it comes to its ordinances and regulations,” said Alderwoman-at-Large Ricki Garrett after an August 17 work session during which the Board discussed ways to regulate medical cannabis in Clinton. Even though state law limits what Cities and Counties can do, Garrett said, “There is an Attorney General’s opinion that we think gives the Cities even more regulatory authority or permission, basically, to set those regulations.”
The opinion could be challenged in court, but Garrett wants Clinton to use it in shaping its medical cannabis ordinance.
“I think, at this point, we probably need to be as restrictive as we possibly can be; and then, if we have to back off on that, we can.”
One proposal is to limit medical cannabis businesses to a commercial medical district, which would also be available to other medical providers who wish to locate there. Cities like Southaven have created such districts.
If the signatures on the petitions are verified, the City would have sixty days to hold the election. But it could head off the vote by reversing its earlier decision and opting in to medical cannabis.
Garrett said the Board seems open to discussing that option.
“I think there is some concern about the $20,000 or so cost of an election, particularly when the voters [in the 2020 ballot initiative] have already said they want this.”
Mayor Phil Fisher said in April he would veto any attempt to opt in.
Regardless of which direction the Board goes, Ward 2 Alderman Jim Martin said having an ordinance in place is “a healthy way” to handle it. He said he understands it may sound sort of backwards to approve the regulations first before the businesses are even allowed.
“But by going through the process of putting together the regulations, it helps us to better identify the issues,” Martin said. “Then it makes it easier for us to make that decision on whether to opt in, remain out or let it go to a petition vote.”
Katie Snell represents a company which wants to grow and process medical cannabis in a facility at the Clinton Industrial Park. She would prefer that the Board opt in.
“It just costs any County or City less, and it’s faster,” Snell said, “and it’s just easier.”
Some of the issues the Board discussed at its work session included security requirements for medical cannabis operations and odor control, but Snell said the businesses “have no interest in smelling bad or having security issues, and they put a lot of money into avoiding that.”
Clinton Police Chief Ford Hayman has made it clear that he opposes medical cannabis in the city, but he supports the work the aldermen are doing to regulate the industry.
“I think it’s up the Board to hammer out the best possible ordinance that helps everybody,” Hayman said.