By Randy Bell
A Clinton alderwoman says legalizing medical cannabis establishments would give patients more options to deal with debilitating medical conditions. But another Board member says it wouldn’t fit the City’s brand. The police chief says marijuana in any form would not be good for Clinton. But one of the investors hoping to grow and process medical cannabis in the city says the negative impacts are overblown.
The Board decided last April to opt out of the State’s medical cannabis program, but a petition drive has forced a citywide vote, which has been set for February 28. Clinton voters are being asked to decide if businesses should be allowed to cultivate, process, test and sell medical cannabis and cannabis products in the city. Patients in Clinton who have received a State-issued medical cannabis card will still be allowed to have and use medical cannabis, regardless of the election results.
Ward 5 Alderwoman Beverly Oliver, who’s a registered nurse and a family nurse practitioner, is hoping it passes. Oliver says she’s heard from people with glaucoma who’ve tried a variety of drugs.
“Nothing helps. And the doctor suggests medical marijuana, and the pressure in their eye goes back to normal,” Oliver says. “I’ve seen people who were on it for anxiety, and it really makes a huge difference.”
But Ward 3 Alderman Robert Chapman believes allowing medical cannabis businesses in Clinton would be a mistake.
“I just don’t feel that what comes with medical marijuana fits the brand of Clinton, the heartbeat of this place. You can drive five minutes, ten minutes, and get it if you need it. And, for those people, I’m very sympathetic to them, and I’m not wanting to keep them from having access to that. I just don’t think it fits here.”
Police Chief Ford Hayman is convinced that medical cannabis is the first step toward recreational marijuana.
“And I think that would be terrible for our city,” Hayman says. The chief is also concerned that some of the medical cannabis would wind up on the black market. “They’re growing way too much for the medical needs, so it’s just a bad deal all the way around.”
Katie Snell is one of the partners in a company called Rootdown, which is hoping to locate a medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility at the Clinton Industrial Park.
“We completely disagree with the language [the City] stuck in the regulations about all the negative impacts marijuana will have. We believe that those impacts are not supported. This is a medical program.”
Rootdown has received state licenses to operate two medical cannabis dispensaries in Jackson and two more in Hattiesburg and Biloxi.
But not here.
“We don’t anticipate putting one in Clinton,” Snell says. “We don’t want a dispensary here, because it doesn’t make financial sense, and there’s not a location that makes sense here. If somebody wants to do a dispensary here, that’s great. It just won’t be us.”
If Clinton voters approve medical cannabis establishments, it’ll take some time to get Rootdown’s first crop planted.
“How fast could we get up and running from a cultivation standpoint? I’d say eighteen months to two years,” says company partner Michael Kinard. He says supply chain issues with getting the equipment they’ll need create plenty of uncertainty about the timeline. “It’s kind of hard to tell.”
The voting on February 28 will take place at the Traceway Park administration building, with the polls open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Ward 2 Alderman Jim Martin tried unsuccessfully to convince the Board to allow voting in each of the six wards.
“It concerns me that when you have it at one place out at Traceway Park, that’s way out of the way for a vast majority of the citizens,” Martin says. “I’m hoping that people will still go out and vote, but I think there’s no question it’s making it a little more inconvenient. And whether that inconvenience is going to impact which way the election goes, I’m hopeful that it will not.”
Absentee voting is underway during regular office hours at the City Clerk’s office at Brighton Park. The office will also be open on two Saturdays, February 18 and February 25, from 8 a.m. until noon. February 25 is the final day for registered voters to cast an absentee ballot.