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Zoning concerns may hold up Southaven's decision to follow through with medical marijuana law

Mayor Musselwhite said zoning for the medical marijuana bill is "critical."

MEMPHIS, Tenn — After being an advocate for the medical marijuana law in Southaven, Mayor Darren Musselwhite has requested that the city opt out of the bill until it is written to specify zoning restrictions that limit where a dispensary can be placed.  

Mississippi legalized medical marijuana in January, which allows people with cancer and other conditions to purchase up to 3.5 grams of marijuana for medicinal purposes. 

Mississippi is the 37th state to implement the law after the Republican led House and Senate passed the bill with a veto proof majority .

Musselwhite said that although he is pro-medical marijuana, the lack of zoning restrictions could potentially increase crime in certain areas, ultimately depreciating the city.

“As it reads right now, a dispensary can go anywhere that is zoned commercially in your city - anywhere,” Musselwhite said. “It doesn’t say how many can go. So it strips your city of authority to control zoning."

RELATED: Mississippi medical marijuana licensing set to start by June

The city planned to make dispensaries available primarily in Southaven’s medical district, but Musselwhite said that he has received an influx of calls from businesses that desire to open dispensaries in the West End district.

The West End district borders Memphis, stretching from Stateline Rd, eastward from Highway 51 to Airways Blvd. and Highway 51 southward to Dorchester Dr. The district’s bordering city is a high-level concern for Musselwhite, given the crime rates in Memphis.

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“We border one of the most crime ridden cities in America,” Musselwhite said. “Our police fight it every day. And it’s more dangerous in some parts of the city. And the West End it is a bigger challenge. So if we have these dispensaries all over the West End District, I’m worried about the future of our West End. There is going to be crime to follow. They will break into these facilities. It’s going to cause a tremendous burden on our police.”

Musselwhite acknowledged that the city already has difficulty controlling crime in the West End district. He said that he feels that the lack of zoning restrictions will over exhaust first responders.

“If you don’t have zoning, you don’t have control over what your city’s future is,” Musselwhite said.

Musselwhite said that zoning for a law like this is “critical”. His concern for Southaven’s upward growth supersedes his support of the medical marijuana law.

 “It makes me sick to opt out because I was excited about being a leader” Musselwhite said. “I am pro-medical marijuana. But much more, I’m pro-Southaven. And the way the bill is written now, I don’t think we have any choice but to opt out.”

Southaven has until May 2 to make its final decision on whether it will follow through with the law or opt out. The city can also vote to opt in to the law later once zoning concerns have been addressed.

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