Mississippi’s marijuana program might be overturned, but dozens of companies are starting anyway | State Government

JACKSON • Dozens of medical marijuana businesses and nonprofits are popping up around Mississippi even though the state’s regulatory system won’t be ready for months, and despite the fact that the Mississippi Supreme Court might strike down the voter-approved program.

Companies can’t legally grow, process or dispense medical pot until they obtain state licenses, which likely won’t be issued until August. But already more than 90 businesses and nonprofits have registered with the state or reserved a name, according to a recent review of Mississippi Secretary of State records.

Among them: Mississippi Marijuana Doctor, Cannabis Infused Solutions, Cloud 9 Cannabis, Delta Dank and Alien Ganja Farms.

The large number of early registrants underscores the potential economic boost from marijuana legalization after Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 65 in November.

Other states witnessed rapid business growth after medical marijuana passed and state oversight programs began. In Oklahoma, for instance, medical marijuana sales cleared $1 billion within about two years of legalization with more than 9,000 marijuana businesses registered as of late 2020. In New Mexico, medical marijuana grew to a $200-million industry last year.

Ken Newburger, executive director of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said his group already has a “couple hundred” associate members consisting of people hoping to enter the fledgling industry. About 1,000 people reached out to the association in the first two months since it was founded in December, he said, which was “way more” interest than he expected.

Mississippians have seen how cannabis boomed in other states, Newburger said, and “they want to be a part of that.”

Jessica Rice, executive director of the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association, said her group has also received hundreds of inquiries from Mississippians interested in marijuana, and recently held a virtual meeting attended by about 65 people.

The trade association has so far done a mix of policy work – opposing a proposed legislative medical marijuana program, for example – and helping educate people about the cannabis business basics, from obtaining seeds, to strategies for growing pot indoors and outdoors, to starting an LLC.

Rice said part of the group’s mission is to demonstrate how the marijuana industry is professionally operated: “We’re not advocating for Mississippi to become a huge Woodstock, (people) roaming around the streets high.”

Most of the businesses created thus far plan to grow or dispense medical pot, the filings indicate. They include Wild Oats Cannabis Company registered in Tupelo, Top Shelf Cannabis Company in West Point and Flyway Medical Marijuana in Oxford.

Sam Humphrey registered a handful of marijuana businesses with the state including Jackson Cannabis Company and Crooked Letter Cannabis. Humphrey runs Fertile Ground Farms, an urban regenerative farm in Jackson, and said it only made sense to consider marijuana given his experience with fruits and vegetables, though he noted he doesn’t plan to grow pot on his city farming land.

“As a farmer, it’d be unwise to neglect another potential crop,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is a plant. It’s a special plant, but it’s a plant.”

Humphrey also recently obtained a license to grow hemp, which belongs to the same species as marijuana and has several uses, but lacks the psychoactive compound that gets pot smokers high. The Legislature allowed hemp growing last year, and already at least 250 farmers have signed up to grow through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Marijuana and hemp, Humphrey said, use the “same growing infrastructure, the same harvesting equipment, the same processing and drying infrastructure, and the same packaging, basically.” As a farmer it only made sense to explore growing both, he said, even though it’s unclear if Mississippi’s marijuana program will get off the ground anytime soon.

Some Mississippians are seeking out business niches in the marijuana industry that have nothing to do with farming or selling the plant.

Sheryl Jefferson of Lawrence County is CEO and co-founder of the Cannabis Nurse Institute, which plans to teach nurses and other medical personnel in the state about marijuana so that they can knowledgeably treat patients.

The company is developing a self-paced and interactive online course, she said, which will cover the basic laws and regulations of cannabis, as well as various nursing guidelines surrounding the drug. It will be open to nurses with at least a year of experience.

“If you’re going to have patients on (cannabis), you need to be knowledgeable about the process,” said Jefferson, who is also a nurse.

Several nonprofits have also opened to represent various segments of the industry. The Mississippi Black Farmers Medical Marijuana Association started in February and lists an address in Okolona, while the Mississippi Delta Medical Marijuana Association started in December and is registered in Leland.

Emanuel Williams is executive director of the Delta association, and said he has around 10 members so far. He said his goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to enter the marijuana industry, adding the plant has the potential to provide an economic boost for struggling communities in the state.

“The more people know, the more they are educated about it, the more people you’re going to see give it a shot,” Williams said of marijuana. “It’s a win-win situation.”

But much uncertainty about the industry’s future in Mississippi remains – largely due to a pending state Supreme Court case that could toss out Initiative 65. That case, brought by Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler and set for April oral arguments, argues the process for placing a constitutional amendment before voters is improper.

A bill pending in the Legislature could immediately offer a replacement pot program if Initiative 65 is invalidated by the court. But it remains unclear if that proposal can pass: House and Senate leaders appear to have differing views on whether a replacement program should exactly mirror Initiative 65 or not.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi State Department of Health and a medical marijuana advisory committee are in the early stages of setting up rules and regulations – which must be in place by this summer – for the state pot program. That means it’s still unclear how exactly pot will be grown and sold in the state, assuming Initiative 65 survives the court challenge.

“I’d like to be a part of the (marijuana) industry, but there’s no certainty of us having an industry at all,” said Humphrey, the Jackson farmer. “It’s all speculation at this point.”

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