By STEVE SWOGETINSKY
Philadelphia will opt out of medical marijuana for now following the same decision as the Board of Supervisors a day earlier last week.
While the majority of the board wasn’t totally against medical marijuana being manufactured or sold in the city, aldermen voted 3-2 last Tuesday night to take a wait-and-see position.
Ward 2 Alderman Jim Fulton, Ward 3 Alderman James Tatum and Alderman-at-Large James Waltman voted to opt out for now.
Ward 1 Alderman Justin Clearman and Ward 4 Alderman Shaun Seales voted for medical marijuana.
Aldermen set a public hearing for April 19 and will take a formal vote afterward, officials said.
The decision to opt out came after a lengthy discussion involving, board attorney Robert Thomas, aldermen and Sheriff Eric Clark. Attorney Jeremy Chalmers spoke as a citizen in favor of marijuana.
“The city has three options,” Thomas said. “If you do nothing, you are opting in on May 3. If you go that route, you forgo any opportunity to regulate medical marijuana in the city.
“You could vote to opt in. (Either way) the state is going to regulate it, just like they do alcohol. They will run the show.
“If you elect to opt out, then you have to have a public hearing by May 3. You can come back and opt in at any time, if you chose to take that route. If you do that, you have a say in how it operates. How many stores and where it can be grown, where it can be grown.”
Thomas brought up additional information he received from an attorney with the Tennessee Valley Authority that provided electricity to Philadelphia Utilities.
“She called every board attorney in the area that is served by the TVA,” Thomas said. “She told me under federal law, there is no way to have marijuana. It is still illegal to have it. Even though our state has adopted medical marijuana, Federal law has not changed.”
Thomas said she said Congress sent a memo to the Justice Department a few years back saying because so many states are adopting medical marijuana, the Justice Department should not enforce this law, Thomas said.
“That’s the status of that right now,” said Thomas. “But what she wanted us to know, if the Federal government changes and starts enforcing it, then TVA will not provide service to any store or business that sells it.”
If a city choses to opt out, a petition containing 20 percent or 1,500 voters can bring the matter to a vote in town.
“I’m all for opting in for my own reasons,” said Clearman. “The first legal dispensery of Medical Marijuana is probably going to be in 2023.
“This is going to happen (eventually) but I wish Philadelphia would be on the forefront of making something.”
Chalmers pointed out there was an initiative vote in the 2020 election concerning medical marijuana and that the majority city and county voters were in support of it.
The Legislature took its action after the Mississippi Supreme Court voided Initiative 65 on procedural issues.
“They voted on it,” Chalmers said. “If you opt out, you are closing the door to the business person who says I’m going to invest in the city and the county.
“I’m willing to take the risk with the TVA. I am willing to take the risk of providing security of my facility here. What is the difference between marijuana and alcohol … This is for someone who has been prescribed by a doctor for what the doctor feels person needed. The Legislature has given the doctors the doctors the guidance of what qualifies for as a debilitating disease.”
Fulton said he was for opting out because the regulations from the state Health Department have not come out yet. He and Tatum and Waltman said they did not want to rush into something they don’t have all the information about.
“I am for temporarily opting out until we get the regulations,” Fulton said. “We can opt back in at any time. I want to know how it is going to be regulated before we get into it.”
Clark said his concern is that the Health Department is not a law enforcement agency and he wants to know how the law will be enforced.
Mayor James Young said no matter what the board does, now or later, the state will regulate medical marijuana if one day down the line the boards votes to opt in.
“We are going to have to follow them because we can’t do anything different,” Young said.
The city and county follow Ridgeland, Gluckstadt, Pass Christian, Madison and Flora in opting out of medical marijuana.