Madison County waited until the last moment to vote on whether or not they would allow medical marijuana in the county, and ultimately decided to opt out of distribution but to allow the growing of the plant.
The deadline for cities and counties to opt out of any part of the new medical marijuana law was May 3 and the county discussed it in their meeting on May 2. All of the cities within Madison County have previously opted out with the exception of Canton. Their attorney, Mike Espy, let them know he believed it would be improper to opt out of all things medical marijuana as they did not give the public ample notice of their intentions as they waited until the last day to vote.
“The law is pretty specific when it talks about giving the public notice of your intention to opt out of all of it – cultivation, distribution, or processing – or any of it,” Espy said.
Supervisor Gerald Steen’s item for discussion stated “Consideration of Vote to Opt Out of Allowance of Medical Cannabis Dispensary” and, therefore, Espy thought it only to be proper to opt out of distribution alone.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of opting out with District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks and District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin voting against opting out of distribution citing reasons of following what the people wanted and voted for. The area that this would largely affect lies in their two districts.
“My concern has always been to make sure the will of the people would be what I was going to be voting for,” Banks said. “Madison County overwhelmingly voted for the legalization of medical marijuana. There are a lot of people with different illnesses that the cannabis can help”
Griffin said that District 5 voted in favor of medical marijuana by 68 percent.
“I’d take that any election day,” Griffin said.
Steen read off the percentages each district within the county voted in favor of medical marijuana: District 1, 61%; District 2, 54%; District 3, 59%; District 4, 61%; and District 5, 68%.
“Each district was in favor of this marijuana bill,” Steen said. “Madison County overwhelmingly supported this action. With that being said…the biggest concern that I heard was the dispensaries and distribution of it at this point.”
Concerns regarding law enforcement having to watch these far ends of the county where distribution centers may go was one of the main reasons the board voted not to allow them.
“We are talking about dispensaries in the countryside,” Banks said. “That takes my mind to only one thing – public safety. I know that it would put a burden on our sheriff’s department to maintain security.”
Sheriff Randy Tucker said the bill is for the state and not specifically for Madison County, and he thinks the will of the people was served simply in the passage of the bill. He said he also is concerned by the dispensary portion of the bill.
“I want to make it very clear - I’m for opting out of everything, but I understand the need to opt in on certain parts of it,” Tucker said.
Ultimately, this concern for public safety led to the board’s decision to opt out of distribution. However, the county outside of the municipalities will join Canton in allowing cultivation, processing and transportation of medical marijuana.