By STEVE SWOGETINSKY
Philadelphia aldermen reversed course and in a 3-2 vote last Tuesday night (April 19) opted-in to medical marijuana.
In making the decision, a Philadelphia man asked aldermen if they wanted his sick, cancer-stricken father to go to jail for just trying to feel better as the son and others urged city officials to approve medical marijuana, which they ultimately did reversing their earlier position.
Ward 1 Alderman Justin Clearman made the motion to opt in to Mississippi’s new medical marijuana law and Ward 3 Alderman James Tatum seconded the motion.
Ward 4 Alderman Shaun Seales joined Clearman and Tatum in voting for marijuana while Ward 2 Aldermen Jim Fulton and Alderman-at-Large James Waltman voted against over concerns the state has not published regulations.
Fulton again expressed the most concern about the regulations from the state Health Department not having been published. He has said they did not want to rush into something they don’t have all the information about.
Aldermen had indicated two weeks ago they planned to opt-out after concerns were expressed by law enforcement about the clarity of the law.
Gregg Turk, the cancer-stricken man, told aldermen last week he needs marijuana to relieve the chronic pain of cancer and chemotherapy treatments.
Tatum was so moved by the suffering of Turk and others he changed his mind last Tuesday night and voted to opt in on medical marijuana, a decision that could ultimately allow the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana inside the city limits, the city attorney said.
Turk spoke of how he is currently going through chemotherapy and needs marijuana for pain.
City Attorney Robert Thomas says the decision to opt in lets the state set the rules, much like the liquor laws, although the marijuana rules haven’t been written yet, he told a Democrat reporter last Tuesday night following the vote, a concern several aldermen had expressed in taking a wait-and-see approach like in other cities such as Pass Christian, Madison, Ridgeland, Flora, and Gluckstadt.
Under the new medical marijuana law passed by the Legislature in February, cities and counties have until May 3 to opt-out or lose the chance to ever do so again, according to the law.
Philadelphia alderman Tuesday night (April 19) voted 3-2 to opt-in to medical marijuana. By not voting to opt-out they would have automatically been in, according to the law.
The board earlier this month declared its intention to opt out, but Tatum changed his mind Tuesday night, Thomas and others said.
“I had a couple of questions about things I didn’t understand,” Tatum said this week after the vote. “I talked with someone and got those questions answered. When I came to the meeting, I had made up mind to vote in favor of opting in.
“I talked with people who have serious health issues. This might help them with pain, Tatum said. “I am a cancer survivor, too. I’m clear right now but it might come back on me. And if the doctor prescribed it, I would take it,” Tatum said.
Mayor Jame A. Young allocated five to 10 minutes for the public to speak about the medical marijuana issue at the regular meeting Tuesday night (April 19) where aldermen had advertised a public hearing on marijuana.
The 65-year-old Turk told aldermen he should be able to obtain marijuana legally because of how painful chemotherapy is and how much marijuana helps him not to be in pain.
Tyler Turk, Gregg Turk’s son, was at the city meeting and spoke up about how marijuana helps his father not be nauseous and he asked aldermen if they wanted his sick daddy with cancer to go to jail for just trying to feel better while dealing with cancer and the painful side effects of chemotherapy.
Mignon Johnson, a woman who identified as a registered herbalist, spoke of how she is a cancer survivor and said she wanted to speak even though she lives in the county.
She spoke of how beneficial marijuana is for those who are sick with cancer and noted she is a cancer survivor.
She said at the time she tried medical marijuana and said it was the only way she was able to make it through her cancer, Stage III thyroid cancer, at age 21.
She said people are needing marijuana for medicine and that it’s not about the recreational side of marijuana.
She said legalizing marijuana would allow those who need relief to consume it legally and not further grow the black market that already exists in Philadelphia.
She spoke of how much more money it would bring into the city and how it would allow for the city to put money into more things that would benefit citizens.
She said medical marijuana is a $800 million industry and Philadelphia opting out will still leave the city financially strained.
Johnson said medical marijuana would help create jobs and help those who are sick and need medical marijuana.
Another man got up and spoke of how beneficial it would be to the city of Philadelphia and spoke of how he could operate a medical marijuana business inside the city limits.
He said choosing to opt in is an investment in the community.
Fulton said he stood by his original statement to just wait and see how the police department would handle legalized marijuana with regulations that haven’t been written yet.
“I just feel like we should’ve opted out temporarily because of waiting on the Department of Health regulations, speaking with a couple of doctors and speaking with law enforcement officials,” Fulton told the Democrat after the vote last week. “It would’ve been in the best interest to opt out temporarily. You could always opt in at any given moment but opt out is a one-time deal by May 3.”
Clearman spoke last week at the meeting of how he’s had personal experience with losing people to opioid and alcohol addiction and that it prides him to opt in for medical cannabis
“Every time we kick this can it always comes back,” Clearman said at the City Hall meeting last week adding that the time to act is now and to be ahead of the move to legalize marijuana.
That’s when Tatum said he was for opting in after he’d indicated he was for waiting previously.
Fulton then spoke of how he is not opting in until he gets the regulation and rules from the state.
Waltman spoke of how the board needs to all have a discussion of medical marijuana and that he’s trying to educate himself and that that opting out isn’t saying “no” its really just them waiting to see.
He also said that the city needs to wait and make the decision that’s best for Philadelphia and that he’s saying temporarily and getting together with the city board and seeing what is the best route for this city
Ward 4 Alderman Shaun Seals spoke up and disagreed with him and said that he heard the testimony of the gentlemen with Stage IV cancer. Seals said he is not God and he doesn’t know how much longer the man has.
Seals also said the people have spoken and voted on this issue and that the two people that spoke on their personal issues.
He said he is not going to sit there and be the judge and that he is not going to get in the way just because of his own thinking and logic and that he is going to opt in because the people have spoken and he believes the people are more important and their opinion matters.
On April 12, Tatum had sided with Fulton, and Waltman to opt out but have the public hearing.
This week, aldermen favoring marijuana expressed confidence that when the application process begins in June 2022, there will be a 30-day approval time for licensure applications, and a five-day approval time for program patients, although the guidelines have not been published by the state formally.
“I think it’s great,” Clearman said this week. “I am the one who made the motion for us to opt in.
“I realize some people have some doubts. There will be a lot of stipulations. It will be dispensed from a standalone dispensary. They will have the same kind of requirements that a pharmacy has. I feel like we are doing the right thing for the people who need it.”
At the public hearing held before the vote, four people including the Turks spoke and all were in favor of the city opting in.
“My point is, the negative part of the marijuana issue is going always be there,” said Young. “If we keep in mind what this does for people who have pain due debilitating illnesses. This may be an alternative to deal with a patient’s chronic pain that conventional meds haven’t helped.”
The meeting last Tuesday concluded with the board having the 3-2 vote to opt in on medical marijuana which was then followed by applause from the four or five citizens at the meeting.
Clearman made the motion to opt in to Mississippi’s new medical marijuana law and Ward 3 Alderman James Tatum seconded the motion.
Ward 4 Alderman Shaun Seales joined Clearman and Tatum in voting for marijuana while Ward 2 Aldermen Jim Fulton and Alderman-at-Large James Waltman voted against.
Fulton again expressed concern the regulations from the state Health Department have not come out yet with others citing “internet sources.” Fulton has said they did not want to rush into something they don’t have all the information about.
Aldermen had indicated they planned to opt out after concerns were expressed by law enforcement about the clarity of the law, including Sheriff Eric Clark.
The initial consensus to opt out earlier this month came after a lengthy discussion involving, board attorney Robert Thomas, aldermen and Sheriff Clark.
Attorney Jeremy Chalmers spoke at that time as a citizen in favor of marijuana.
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.
The Neshoba County Board of Supervisors on Monday, April 18 voted 4-1 to opt out of medical marijuana.