Part One, Public Hearing and Action on Medical Marijuana: Union County Supervisors catch an earful
Sheriff Jimmy Edwards, an opponent of legally selling medical marijuana in Union County, asked the county board to hold a hearing on the matter. The board did as the sheriff asked and set the hearing for 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, April 26.
Edwards vowed to “fill the room” with opponents of selling medical marijuana in Union County. He got it done.
Only the opposition signs in to speak
Most members of the Union County Board of Supervisors had previously indicated, both privately and publicly, their intention to “Opt Out,” but to “Op back in” at a future date when the full operating regulations for medical marijuana had been drafted by the Department of Health. These local “Opt Out/Opt In” provisions are delineated in the bill that became law during the 2022 legislative session.
The seats in the Chancery Courtroom were filled several minutes before the hearing started and dozens of people stood along the walls and in the aisles. Still others stood hallways and the lobby just outside the courtroom. It was difficult to get a head count, but estimates ranged up to 150 attendees.
For a little more than an hour the atmosphere and utterances in the room resembled an old time Holy Ghost revival more than a public hearing on a political matter.
The five members of the Union County Board of Supervisors, Union County Chancery Clerk Annette Hickey, and Chandler Rogers, the board’s attorney, were at a table at the front of the room. Besides Chancery Clerk Hickey and Sheriff Edwards, at least two other elected officials, Circuit Clerk Phyllis Stanford and County Collector Tameri Dunnam, were present. Several sheriff’s deputies were present, as was former Sheriff Joe Bryant.
Those who wanted to speak were asked to submit their intentions in writing. Board of Supervisors President C. J. Bright presided. Chancery Clerk Hickey served as time-keeper. Each speaker was allowed three minutes.
Not counting several interjections and questions shouted from the audience, a total of 18 people addressed the supervisors from a podium.
A variety of opinions favoring “opt out” are presented
First to speak was Bill Thurman, a retired economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “I believe I have a perspective on marijuana that others may not have,” said Thurman. “I am in favor of true medical marijuana, but I am strongly opposed to recreational marijuana. It’s come home to me, you see.
“I have seen what it can do. I saw my brother get into marijuana back in the 1970s.” Thurman said he watched his younger brother change, that he wasn’t pleasant to be around, that he began to drink alcohol very heavily, got tired of drugs, got cirrhosis of the liver and “died at the ripe old age of 48.” Thurman said again that, in spite of what he had observed in his brother, he was in favor of “true” medical marijuana. He questioned whether the bill passed by the legislature and governor was “true medical marijuana.”
He said the bill passed by the legislature is “much closer to a recreational marijuana bill than a medical marijuana bill.”
Ethan Pacquin, who recently moved with his wife and children from New Hampshire to New Albany, said they had moved because they wanted to live and raise their family in a less permissive and more traditional environment than had developed in their native state. Pacquin characterized the legalization of marijuana as a “slippery slope.”
Rev. Will Carpenter spoke at the hearing. He said, “I don’t have no written speech today. I know this. I know I was lost one day and I’ve been found by Jesus Christ. I know that drugs and alcohol get in the wrong hands and never no good comes out of it. I am for medical marijuana as a pill or liquid to help somebody with the pain of cancer or what have you, but for the recreational and the partying, it don’t bring nothing but tragedy and death.” Carpenter went on to say, “I’m for Jesus, and I’m against the devil. I stand for the Lord today. I am a minister of God, and I have to speak what my Bible reads. And I know the wages of sin’s death and the gift of God is eternal life.”
State Senator Kathy L. Chism, whose current district includes most of Union County and a portion of Pontotoc County, is an auctioneer, realtor and business owner.
In addressing the Supervisors and the audience attending the hearing, Senator Chism said, “As everybody here knows, Jesus Christ sent me to Jackson to do my job and I’ve have had a lot of ups and downs and in and outs, but this marijuana deal is one of the worst.
“They brought this bill to the floor. I voted against it. Some of the others did, but not enough of them. We have too many RINOs [RINO: “Republicans In Name Only,” an acronym used by some Republicans to describe other Republicans perceived to be less “conservative” than they would like them to be]. down there. We need more Christian good conservative Republicans down there to vote on these bills like this marijuana bill.”
Chisolm described what she said is a situation in an unspecified part of Oklahoma in which she claimed crime has risen and property values have been driven down in areas near where marijuana is being commercially grown, processed and sold by retailers. Her information apparently came from a documentary she watched on television. “This is the devil in disguise coming to Mississippi,” said Chism. “I’m totally against it. I hope when you all opt out, you’ll stay opted out.”
Chism said that Snoop Dog, a rapper with a criminal record, has invested $25-million in commercial marijuana operations.
She said, “Y’all take a look at this and pray about this. I’m begging. I’m standing up here begging. Please do not opt in in another two months because you’re going to ruin Union County. And I’m here to fight for Union County. God sent me to Jackson to fight for Union County.”
In conclusion Chism said, “I voted against the bill that has 477 pages of evil in it.”
Lori Sharum, who said she was from the state of Oregon, but had relocated to Union County, declared, “When I was a child that [Oregon] was an amazing state like Mississippi.” Sharum became emotional as she said, “Don’t do this to your children, to your grandchildren. I know. You all know what’s right. We all follow the Bible and in the Bible Jesus was up there cleaning and getting rid of all of the money out of the temple and that’s what this is, Brothers and Sisters. This is money and it is money in your temple.”
Sheriff Jimmy Edwards spoke saying he had told the county board when he asked them to opt out and were going to hold a public hearing that he was going to do all he could to fill the hearing room with opponents of medical marijuana. Edwards said he was satisfied that he had it done. After speaking briefly the sheriff concluded, “I hope you opt out and stay opted out.”
Among several speakers who spoke with great emotion, the most intense seemed to be Kenny Digby, a Baptist preacher, formerly from Itawamba County, more recently executive director of an organization in Jackson, MS, called the Christian Action Commission.
Digby said, “What’s brought us here was the total confusion from beginning to end on Initiative 65 and 65A. Many legislators used that to justify the medical marijuana bill.”
Gesturing flamboyantly during his remarks by making “air quotes” with his fingers, pointing his fingers at the board members and pounding on the podium a few times, Digby declared, “What we’re talking about today is not whether or not there’ll be medical marijuana in Mississippi. That ain’t the issue. The issue is do you want more marijuana or less marijuana in Union County? That’s the issue. Ask the medical community. ‘Will we be better off with more marijuana or less marijuana?’ Ask law enforcement, ‘Does it make their job harder or easier?’”
Digby made a rhetorical analogy asking whether the supervisors would want a waste dump or high-risk prison near where they live or “a hundred miles away.”
He concluded by shouting, “Opt out for the greater good!”
The second and concluding part of NEMiss.New’s story about the hearing on medical marijuana will be published here on Sunday, May 1, 2022.
To see: Medical Marijuana, Part 2 and link to video of the hearing
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