public hearing

DeSoto County Board of Supervisors adopted final guidelines regulating medical cannabis during a public hearing on Friday.

DeSoto County Board of Supervisors approved new text amendments to its zoning ordinances to allow for medical cannabis and also set forth the guidelines for growing facilities, dispensaries and other related operations in the county during a public hearing on Friday.

The county, which opted-in to the new medical marijuana law,  adopted the recommendations presented to the board by its medical cannabis committee. The committee studied the issue and developed guidelines which closely mirror state regulations while also tailoring them to address local zoning concerns the county had. 

“We have more committees than a Baptist Church,” said District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell. “We had lots of people on the cannabis committee. We read through the state health department regulations and worked really hard to come up with what we think are some good ordinances for the citizens of our county.”

Under the new guidelines:

• no cannabis facilities will be allowed in the AR or agricultural residential zones. 

• all cannabis facilities will also be considered a business and must pay a $1,000 licensing fee to the county for the first year and $500 ever year, which is in addition to what the state charges. Facilities will also have to submit site plans and submit to inspections.

• all cannabis facilities must include an access road or driveway and must be a hard surface.

• all cannabis business applications and documents sent to the state must also be sent to the county.

• all cannabis businesses are prohibited within 1,000 feet of the nearest boundary line of a school, church, or child care facility unless they are granted a waiver to locate as close as 500 feet.

The regulations also stipulate that cultivation and processing, research and testing, and transportation operations must have a 3 acre minimum and be set back 100 feet from the property line.

“I want to thank the committee,” said District 2 Supervisor Mark Gardner. “I think we’ve got a good proposal. Not everyone is going to agree with it. A lot of people who called me have said ‘what about me? How is this going to affect me or my land?’ We tried to look at the whole county and what it impacts and the community as a whole.”

Mississippi Department of Health began accepting applications for the medical marijuana program on June 1. The Department of Revenue will begin reviewing applications for dispensaries on July 1.

Three residents spoke during the public comment period. Michael Chamberlin of Lake Cormorant asked about the hours of operation for cultivation facilities. Under the guidelines, cultivation would be allowed 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Sunday.

He said plant seedlings require an 18 hour light cycle.

“With a 12 hour window of operation, it would be outside the hours of operation,” Chamberlin said. 

Gardner said the hours are meant to protect neighbors from traffic coming and out, odors, and the glow from the lights, but added that growing not limited to those business hours.

“We know that any type of farming is a 24 hour operation,” Gardner said. “I think the concern was business activity coming in and out and for lack of a better term, light pollution. So we had to make sure you are not bothering your neighbors.”

Chamberlin said he has 2.96 acres of land that is zoned AR and asked if he would be disqualified because he doesn’t meet the three acre minimum.

“I am 4/100ths of an acre shy of three acres,” Chamberlin said. “Is that going to disqualify me?”

Gardner said he could come back to the board and ask for the property to be rezoned.

“Even before medical cannabis, we moved stuff in and out of A to AR, and AR back to A for various reasons,” Gardner said. “That’s almost every board meeting we are doing something like that.”

Roy Ridgeway told the board some lots may not be able to meet the 100 foot setback requirement.

“You could have a 200 foot lot that is 600 feet long and still have three acres and still you have no ability,” Ridgeway said. “Is there any possibility of a variance with this?”

Gardner said the county does grant variances on a case-by-case basis.

“The answer to that is, it depends,” Gardner said. “There is always the possibility of a variance. It depends on what your situation is, how close your neighbors are. And that’s the same thing as if you were building a garage and you came in for a variance. If it didn’t bother your neighbors, 99 times out of 100 this board, the board of adjustments, the planning commission, we’re all going to approve that. We realize not everything fits a square hole.”

Steven Brown, who lives on Malone Road South and is interested in opening a micr-growing facility, said it will be hard for anyone to meet the three acre minimum and accused the board of deliberately making it difficult to open such a facility in the county.

“It is making it harder for everybody,” Brown said. “I don’t understand how it is going to affect somebody if I am growing marijuana in a closed space with charcoal filters on my property. Nobody is gong to smell it. It is enclosed. There will be no lights. There will be no noise. Where did you come up with that number?”

Gardner disputed that the county is trying to make it harder to do business in the county and said the committee did a lot of research and looked at what other states are doing.

“You are so wrong there,” Gardner said. “I really don’t appreciate you stating that. We’re just doing our job. We’ve been working on this since it became law several times a week.”

Brown said between the three acre minimum standard and the state licensing and application fees, which run close over $60,000, it will price most mom and pop businesses out the medical cannabis industry.

“You may not have been trying, but it is going to make it hard to do this,” Brown said. “I can’t do it on my land. I don’t have three acres. Where am I going to find three acres? You just can’t do it.”

District 5 Supervisor and board president Michael Lee said the board did not set any of the guidelines to exclude anyone from opening a cannabis business in the county, and agreed with Gardner that the board has to look at the overall good of the county as a whole.

“I understand where you are coming from,” Lee said. “It wasn’t intentional. That’s not what we are about. We want growth in this county. We want healthy growth. That’s what we do. If you didn’t have some kind of control and rules and regulations, then there would be no need for us up here. These people worked very hard.”

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