Medical marijuana zoning

A discussion over the boundaries of Southaven's new commercial medical zone led to a heated exchange between Mayor Darren Musselwhite and Alderman William Jerome.

Southaven will begin sending out letters notifying property owners who will be affected by the city’s new medical marijuana district.

The Board of Alderman on Tuesday gave their approval for the planning department to a proceed with the rezoning process and a map laying out the boundaries for two areas where dispensaries would be allowed.

Southaven opted out of the state’s new medical marijuana law in order to give itself more time to create a new zoning category that will allow for medical cannabis dispensaries.

The Commercial Medical zones would restrict where dispensaries can set up shop to a centralized area in the city north of Goodman Road around Baptist Memorial Hospital and in an area south of Goodman Road around Airways Blvd. and Physician’s Lane where there is empty property for medical cannabis businesses to build.

Planning Director Whitney Choat-Cook said in laying out the boundaries for the new medical zone, staff felt that the area around the hospital made sense because there are already a lot of medical offices, medical supply businesses, and vacant retail space there that can accommodate a dispensary, and that the additional area to the south has open land to develop if somebody wants to invest and build a dispensary on their own.

“Right now, this is the proposal we put together,” Choat-Cook said. “We can adjust the lines as needed if there is a concern or if we want to exclude or include additional areas.”

Alderman William Jerome said the proposed area around the hospital would only leave room for one dispensary to open and made a motion to expand the area to include the Malco movie theater.

“What is the reason we aren’t including the movie theater?” Jerome asked. “Based on how the lines are drawn right now, you’re basically going to only have probably one in the zone based on the 1,500 foot radius.”

Choat-Cook said staff believes the area as drawn can accommodate four dispensaries and said they left the Malco out over concerns that the city has had in the past about people loitering and to keep cannabis businesses way from residential areas.

“The thought process behind these areas was one, to contain it, notably to make sense from a medical commercial zoning standpoint, but also from a police standpoint,” Choat-Cook said. ‘We want to have it contained where we have  boundaries and they can better patrol the areas.”

Choat-Cook added that the city can always come back later and expand the boundaries.

“We think it is better to keep it in a controlled area,” Choat-Cook said. “And if we see that it is not problematic or it is not bringing issues to the police or issues on zoning for us or traffic issues, you can always expand beyond there. But we need a starting point and I feel like it is better to keep it contained and expand if it necessary because it is a lot harder to downsize.”

Jerome disagreed with her number of dispensaries that can fit in the zone.

“It will never happen because Baptist DeSoto is never going to sell any of their property,” Jerome said.

Mayor Darren Musselwhite said he believes the proposed boundaries leave room for more than one dispensary there and urged the board to adopt the zones as a starting point.

“You might be right about the hospital,” Musselwhite said. “As far as the 1,500 rule, there’s lots of options there. Again, it is my recommendation to the city. Let’s dip our toes in the water. Let’s check it out.”

“Not really,” Jerome responded.

“There are,” Musselwhite continued. “Alderman, we didn’t just draw this out of our hip pocket. This is something that has a though process go into it.”

Musselwhite said the goal was to stay away from residential areas and to keep medical cannabis businesses away from kids and places like the Malco.

“You may not know this, but for years we have had major problems with loitering at the Malco,” Musselwhite said. “So to answer your question, if you start taking in that area and you put a medical marijuana dispensary there, on any weekend night we fight the loitering there. Again, this is new. We don’t know. It may not be a big issue later.”

Jerome pointed out that there is already a CBD store near the Malco, which led to a testy exchange with Musselwhite.

“Do we think there is a bigger problem with loitering at a dispensary versus a liquor store or CBD store?” Jerome said. “There are both of them in this area.”

“It’s not the same thing,” Musselwhite said. “There is a lot of difference. Do your homework. Nick, would you explain to him the difference between CDB and  marijuana? Help him, because he does’t understand.”

Jerome accused Musselwhite of being condescending.

“No, I do understand,” Jerome said. “Mayor, I let it go one time being condescending to me. I will not let you go twice.”

“You’re not going to talk to me like this in a meeting,” Musselwhite said in a raised tone of voice.

“Why not? You talk this way?” Jerome said.

Musselwhite then angrily suggested Jerome make a motion to change the boundary lines for the board to vote on.

“If you want to make a motion, make a motion,” Musselwhite said.

“I’ve made a motion,” Jerome said.

“Is there a second to Alderman Jerome’s motion?” Musselwhite shouted. “Motion dies. Let’s move on.”

The rezoning will be on the September Planning Commission agenda and will come back to the aldermen for approval on Oct. 18.


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