Elected officials from the third-largest county in Mississippi did not make a final decision on participating in the state’s forthcoming medical cannabis market before adjourning from their April 25 meeting.
Members of the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors weighed their options, specifically as it pertains to zoning, for housing cannabis businesses as a May 3 deadline approaches, the DeSoto Times-Tribune reported.
Under the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act (MMCA), legislation Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law on Feb. 2, municipalities have 90 days, or until May 3, to decide whether to opt out of allowing medical cannabis businesses in their jurisdictions. If city or county officials take no action before the deadline, they will opt in by default.
The DeSoto board’s meeting on Monday was to discuss the law and to hear from the public. Its next meeting is scheduled for May 2.
District 2 Supervisor Mark Gardner and District 3 Supervisor Ray Denison both said they were in favor of opting in because DeSoto County voters were overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing medical cannabis in the November 2020 election. Roughly 73.4% of voters cast ballots in support of either Initiative Measure 65 or 65A, according DeSoto County election results.
“I too, like Mark, believe we ought to do what the people voted for,” Denison said during the meeting, the Times-Tribune reported. “In this case, it was well over a majority. I think we still have a lot of work to do to iron out the details. There are so many questions and there are so many opinions.”
Located just across the state line from Memphis, Tenn., DeSoto County houses some of the most populated cities in Mississippi, including Southaven, Olive Branch and Horn Lake. Specifically, Olive Branch and Hernando became the first cities in DeSoto County to opt in last week.
Much of the DeSoto County board’s Monday meeting was focused on zoning and where medical cannabis dispensaries, cultivation facilities and testing labs would be allowed to operate under the county’s zoning laws, the Times-Tribune reported.
In cities that have opted out, such as Horn Lake and Madison, elected officials cited concerns over zoning.
Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite expressed similar concerns over zoning in the weeks following Reeves’ signing of the legislation, saying he wanted to consult with attorneys to determine if the law allows for the city to zone where dispensaries can operate before making a decision, FOX 13 Memphis reported.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch responded to Musselwhite’s concerns in an April 15 opinion, stating that MMCA’s law does give cities the authority to regulate dispensaries in commercial zones, and to legally limit or restrict where those establishments are located within various zoning districts.
“Yes,” Fitch wrote in the opinion. “The city may restrict or limit the location of medical cannabis establishments and the manner in which they operate through ordinances or regulations governing the time, place, and manner of medical cannabis establishments adopted in accordance with a comprehensive zoning plan.”
In addition, the Mississippi Department of Revenue, which is responsible for licensing medical cannabis dispensaries in the state, has zoning guidelines available on its website under the “General Cannabis Dispensary License Information” section.
While the deadline for local jurisdictions to opt out is May 3, the Mississippi Revenue Department has 150 days (the first week of July) from the law’s enactment to begin licensing dispensaries—providing city and county officials additional time to amend zoning ordinances if they opt in.