Part One of this story was published by NEMiss.News, Friday, April 29. That account ended with remarks by Kenny Digby. A link to Part One is at the bottom of this article. There is also a link below to a video of the hearing produced by Kenny S. Studios. Readers who watch the video may form their own opinions as to what happened the morning of Tuesday, April 26.
Hearing from signed-in speakers
Part Two of the story starts with remarks by Scott Maxey, a New Albany used car dealer.
Maxey said, “I’ve been here in Union County and New Albany for 55 years, and I don’t understand why we’re at this point, why we’re having to meet with you all to decide whether you’re going to opt in or opt out.” Maxey then directed a question to the board members asking, “Where do you stand on it?”
District Two Supervisors Chad Coffey and District One Supervisor Sam Taylor quickly raised their hands, both saying, “I’m out.”
Randy Owen said, “I’m for the medical marijuana but I’m against recreational marijuana.”
Maxey then challenged Owen asking, “You’re for medical marijuana. In what form?’
“In a pill or liquid form if it’s medical marijuana,” said Owen.
District Five Supervisor Steve Watson indicated he favored opting out.
District Three Supervisor and Board President C. J. Bright then said, “I’m 100% on board with medical marijuana.”
Maxey responded, “All I can say is…it’s a devil in sheep’s clothing. If you cain’t see that, we’ve probably got the wrong people elected.”
Next to speak was Mary Tate Pannell who said she had heard a company from Arkansas had already acquired a building in Union County to produce marijuana.
C. J. Bright said, “For full disclosure, so far as I know, nobody at this table knows of any company from anywhere investing any money in Union County currently to grow marijuana.”
Randy Robbins spoke next. He said he was regional president for a recycling company with over 600 employees. “In all the areas where marijuana became legal,” said Robbins, “let me tell you what we saw…all these people that started using medical marijuana – it doesn’t stay medical marijuana…productivity fell to the bottom. Attendance fell to the bottom. You couldn’t get anybody to come to work anymore.”
Next to speak was Suzanne Rakestraw who said, “It does not need to be in our county.”
Sue Morrison, a nurse, was the next speaker. Morrison quoted from a resolution passed by the city of Madison, Mississippi which opted out of allowing medical marijuana. She said, “Program guidelines are still being established. They won’t be out for months yet, so opting in to something you didn’t know the rules for would be fairly dangerous, if not irresponsible.”
The next speaker was Danny Barnes. He said he had worked in law enforcement as a constable, deputy sheriff, and city police officer. Barnes said, “I experienced lives torn up by such as this.”
Barnes said he had worked with people in furniture factories that would smoke marijuana while on break and then try to work impaired, often unable to do their work. “I did notice that there was a brain problem going on up,” Barnes said, gesturing with his hand at his forehead.
“The Lord had laid this on my heart. My son come home from Atlanta. He got hold of something. I don’t know what it was. I called everybody I know to get him some help. He got help now, but he’s disabled. And he’s on regular drugs, you know, prescription drugs and all of that, which makes him better. He can walk. He can feed himself, but as far as preparing anything, putting on his shirt, taking a shower, things like that, he’s not there.”
“We’ve got a drug problem in the United States. We don’t need it in Mississippi.”
Barnes was one of several speakers who spoke of marijuana as a gateway drug.
Barnes was the last speaker who had signed up before the meeting began. However, when he finished speaking Board President C. J. Bright asked if anyone else in the room had anything to say.
Hearing from speakers who did not sign in
Former Sheriff Joe Bryant, who first served as Union County sheriff 50 years ago, stood up and said, “I didn’t sign up, but I’ll be very brief.”
Bryant is a guy whose appearance and manner make him a presence in any room. With his iconic bushy eyebrows, dark piercing eyes, and natural grace, people listen when Joe Bryant has something to say.
Bryant started by saying he believed he was without doubt the oldest person in the room, which drew a laugh. (He’s believed to be 86 years old). He said he had made the first marijuana arrests in Union County when he first served as sheriff in the early 1970s. Bryant said the people he arrested for marijuana use in the 1970s had moved to the use of crack cocaine when he became sheriff again in the 1980s. “I’m against it as medical marijuana,” he said. “If it was any good it would be in our drug stores years ago and being prescribed, but it’s not. This is all about money.”
Gary Yates, the Union County Baptist Association Mission Director, spoke after Sheriff Bryant. Yates said, “I want to apologize to you folks. We’ve got five Southern Baptist pastors here. Out of 40 churches we’ve got five. We’re not dealing with a drug issue. We’re dealing with a spiritual issue.” Yates lamented that churches wouldn’t work together.
He continued, “Medical cannabis, medical research has shown that it is an effective drug if it’s used properly.” Yates acknowledged that marijuana is already available in Union County but said, “I would hate to see medical dispensaries set up in Union County.” He referred to remarks made earlier by Digby and said, “Let ‘em drive a hundred miles. Let ‘em drive to Tupelo. Let ‘em drive to Blue Springs. Let ‘em drive to Myrtle and get it.”
Hearing becomes disorderly
After Yates finished speaking about 49 minutes into the hearing, the meeting, which had been courteous and business-like until then, became somewhat disorderly with people talking over one another.
Without going to the podium or seeking recognition from the chair, people around the room, some who had already had their turn to speak, started talking spontaneously and without any order. It would be safe to say that some of them got themselves pretty excited, and the meeting became chaotic. Among the remarks shouted out were such as these:
“How far can a bullet travel and kill you?”
“The cartels will be here. This will be a coverup for the black market, a coverup for the cartels, the Mexican cartel, the Russian cartel.”
C. J. Bright attempted to restore some order to the meeting by stating that he was on board with opting out of the retail sale of marijuana anywhere in Union County. “We have no control of what the municipalities do as a county board,” said Bright. “We’ve got Myrtle, Blue Springs, Sherman and New Albany that make their own rules. I don’t think it’s our place to step in, nor can we.”
Bright continued saying, “I have no problem whatsoever with the production, research or growth of the product in the county, strictly because I think it is a good opportunity for us as a county to collect tax revenue. It takes a strain off of our homeowners and property owners.”
The hearing again became a little disorderly with various people saying such as: “It completely ruins the county and devalues all the homes…you have gangs from other states that come in and raid…my nephew was almost harmed and he was just riding his bike…we have trash coming into our neighborhood already…in Colorado they’re growing it at their houses…there’s just so many things you don’t see or think of if you haven’t lived in those states…you’re going to lose…”
Voices got louder and some people were getting themselves pretty lathered up. Some of the supervisors were squirming nervously in their seats as the noise level grew.
The Board takes action
Then, 58 minutes and 41 seconds into the meeting, as people continued to talk over one another, the mood in the room was becoming more heated. District Four Supervisor Randy Owen started waving his right arm in the air.
After five more seconds Owen declared, “I’d like to make a motion to opt out of all phases of medical marijuana.”
There was applause and loud cheering with one woman letting out a loud “Whoooo!” Someone in the audience yelled out, “You just got re-elected,” which brought a beaming smile to Owens’s face.
Then there was a bit of unintended comedy among the supervisors as Taylor, Watson, and Coffey rapidly jumped in and tried to second Owen’s crowd-pleasing motion.
There was more excited talk as people spoke to the board and to one another about whether Union County would stay “opted out.”
Board Attorney Chandler Rogers said, “I want it to be clear to everybody. Obviously, this board has made a decision that they are going to opt out and will never opt back in. But do understand that a future board — boards change – a future board could opt in. It may be forever for this board, but that could change.”
Then C. J. Bright asked if the board was prepared to vote. Among the several “seconds” offered a few minutes earlier, Bright acknowledged the one offered by Chad Coffey.
Owen, Taylor, Watson, and Coffey voted in favor of “opting out forever,” and the motion carried.
That ended the hearing.
Is the public finished speaking?
The several ironies in the Tuesday morning meeting could be seen as another small chapter in the long and confusing debate about medical marijuana in Mississippi.
In 2020 enough Mississippians signed an initiative petition to put medical marijuana on the ballot. It was called “Initiative Measure No. 65.” Initiative 65 would have established a very permissive medical marijuana law in Mississippi, with few restrictions. The state legislature then hastily wrote and passed something called “Alternative Measure 65A.” 65A would have provided a far more restrictive availability of medical marijuana.
To add confusion to confusion, the legislative geniuses also put on the same ballot an option to vote for both 65 and 65A or against both.
Statewide the voters overwhelmingly voted for the more permissive medical marijuana bill.
Union County was no exception. Of those who voted for either 65 or 65A, a strong majority (61%) of Union County voters approved the more permissive marijuana measure 65. Every single one of the 20 Union County precincts went for the version that would make marijuana more easily available.
Countywide, 61% of the voters approved a medical marijuana plan with few restrictions.
- In Sam Taylor’s District One, 62% voted for the more liberal version.
- In Chad Coffey’s District Two, 58% voted for Initiative 65.
- In C. J. Bright’s District Three, 58% voted for the more permissive Initiative 65.
- In Randy Owen’s District Four, the vote was 64% for the version that would make medical marijuana more easily available.
- In Steve Watson’s District 5, 63% of the voters went for Initiative 65.
Thus, four of the five members of the Union County Board of Supervisors have now voted against a medical marijuana measure that is far more restrictive than the one their own constituents overwhelmingly approved less than two years ago.
Next year’s county board elections could be very interesting.
It will also be interesting to see if the New Albany Board of Aldermen will resist pressure to renege on what they have all said they would do. All five city aldermen have said they will ultimately approve medical marijuana within the city limits.
Politics is still the greatest show on earth.
Full video of hearing (Kenny S Studios): https://youtu.be/IGN2oRbxDXE
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Initiative 65, Initiative 65A, medical marijuana, opt in, opt out, politics, public option, religion, Union County Board of Supervisors