Cannabis

Columbus sisters get marijuana dispensary

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$40k in fees, land surveyors, and a lot of research: How Columbus sisters finally got their cannabis dispensary approved

COLUMBUS – Denisha and Amber Glenn saw a whole future inside an abandoned Tuesday Morning.

The shuttered retail store was the perfect home for the sisters’ business venture: Holistika. In their vision, Holistika would be one of Mississippi’s first dispensaries. 

The sisters already had success as founders of their own small human resources company. With , they did their homework. 

“We started the planning process back in 2020,” said Amber Glenn. “We were looking at properties, putting together a business plan. With us being Black women, we knew there’d be challenges… so we have – since day one – done everything correctly and by the books.” 

They visited out-of- expos, toured leading dispensaries, and studied the state’s Medical Cannabis Act, which outlined the burgeoning program. They met early with a city inspector, ensuring their shop’s architect plan accounted for every plumbing and electrical requirement. 

They were two self-made business women, regular , navigating an industry largely dominated by white men and deep-pocket partnerships. A 2017 survey from Marijuana Business Daily found that less than 20% of marijuana business owners are minorities. 

“We’d want to meet with companies – white men – and they would talk to us on the phone, but when they saw us in person, they’d totally disappear,” Denisha Glenn said. 

The snags kept coming. 

When they couldn’t find a local land surveyor to take them as a client, they tracked down one willing to travel from two hours away. They were meticulous, desiring a bullet-proof application ready to upload the moment the state opened the online portal. 

None of it was enough. A competitor down the street uploaded their application materials faster. And in the battle for dispensary licenses across Mississippi, speed took precedence. 

The first wave of licenses went to some of the budding market’s biggest spenders – an attorney who teamed up with an industry insider from leading cannabis state Colorado; a man who owns a private plane charter company; people who have invested millions already on cultivation sites and to launch their own empires, applying for several dispensaries at once. 

The Glenn sisters said they were only aware of one other Black woman in Mississippi working to get a dispensary license. There’s likely a small number overall, but the state’s public list of licensed dispensaries doesn’t specify an owner’s race. 

Losing out on the license stung. But it was the months of application limbo and unanswered questions that really hurt, the sisters said. They expected a swift rejection so they could move on and apply for another location. Instead, they say, it took months for Holistika to get a formal rejection and its $40,000 in fees returned so they could try for a new location. 

“No matter the position in life, the public will like you more if they have access to you,” said Denisha Glenn, reflecting on more than two months it took to get Holistika’s first application rejected so she and her sister could apply for another store. “But it just seems like it’s a lack of personnel and a lack of training.” 

In a statement to Mississippi Today, the Mississippi Department of Revenue said it responds “timely to all inquiries, including those from the personal and legal representatives” – including Holistika –  “usually within one business day.” 

The Mississippi Department of Revenue has issued 139 dispensary licenses since it began accepting applications at the beginning of July. The department says it processes the applications in the order they were received.

 “The application portal licensing software time stamped the receipt of each application out to the 100th millisecond,” MDOR spokespersonwoman Lexus Burns said in a statement. 

Milliseconds counted when applications first flooded into MDOR’s portal. With Mississippi’s law dictating no dispensary could be within 1,500 feet of each other, staking territory was vital. 

Using the first-come-first serve system is normal within the industry, said Jackson-based cannabis attorney Slates Veazey. 

“I struggle to figure out a more fair way,” he said. 

But the law also says applicants should be issued licenses within 30 days of receiving an application. The same, in theory, goes for those being rejected. 

“That’s important information to have,” Veazey said. “If you are getting rejected you need to look for other properties. You know you can move on. And the law gives applicants a short time period to challenge a license determination.” 

Denisha and Amber Glenn said they lost valuable time that could have meant the difference between nailing down another property before a dispensary competitor edged them out for a second time. 

Tucked next to her existing bakery, Nicole Huff has a roughly 1,200-square-foot space she’s working to open as Wildflower dispensary. It’s about 1,300 feet down the street from where the Glenn sisters hoped to open inside the old Tuesday Morning space. 

“July 5, 8 o’clock, I was here,” Huff said from the desk in her bakery’s office, “dragging and dropping everything into (the portal).” 

Thirteen days later, Huff was told her application was approved. But first there was a formatting issue with her land survey; she had 24 hours to have it redone. She wound up among the first people in the state to be issued a dispensary license. 

“I’m so proud of the State Department of Revenue,” Huff said. “They’re crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i.’”

She said she cashed out her 401(k) and sold her stocks to fund her dispensary business. While her contractor filed construction permits, Amber and Denisha Glenn scoured Columbus for an alternative location. 

“We wanted a back-up for the back-up,” Denisha Glenn said. 

They spent $8,500 on land surveys to determine that any hopeful locations were the right distances from churches, schools, daycares and Wildflower.

But landing on the right new spot still didn’t solve their problems. Their first application was still at a standstill. 

Denisha Glenn said it was an October call to the media spokesperson at the state Department of Health – which handles the licenses for cultivation, doctors, and patients – that finally got her in touch with the right people, including Cannabis Program Director Kris Jones Adcock. 

“Once we got connected to the right people who could make those decisions, they were very kind and very helpful,” she said. 

If an applicant’s bid for a license is denied because another dispensary was approved for license in their zone in the period after they applied, they are able to get the $40,000 in application fees returned. 

“The understands the complexities and challenges of starting this type of program,” said spokesperson Liz Sharlot, who assisted the Glenn sisters. “We are gratified for all of the support and cooperation of the Department of Revenue. The Agency is happy to assist applicants of all types to ensure a smooth process for everyone.” 

With their fees returned, on Oct. 14, the sisters applied for a new license. It also meant letting go of the Tuesday Morning spot. They ended their lease. 

The new spot is closer to where they grew up in Columbus. 

“I think our new location is a godsend,” Denisha Glenn said. “It puts us closer to our community.”

In late October, the sisters got the : Their new location was approved.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Medical marijuana grower ordered to destroy plants

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Mississippi marijuana grower ordered to destroy plants, make improvements

The largest grower licensed so far in Mississippi’s fledgling program had to destroy about $1 million worth of plants, halt some operations and make structural improvements at one of its sites, Health Department officials said Thursday.

But largely, the department said it is working with new marijuana businesses — all of which have some “compliance” issues — as the program gets going and not dropping the regulatory hammer laid out in state rules or calling law enforcement on them.

A Mississippi Today article and photos in early October showed that Mockingbird LLC did not follow state growing and security regulations. The department’s response at that time — to write Mockingbird a letter listing “corrective actions” and to not answer any questions — had competitor growers crying foul. They said Mockingbird was allowed to grow and harvest a crop improperly and on the cheap in plastic- and cloth-covered greenhouses with lax security that would allow them to beat others to market as the program gets rolling.

Mockingbird had been growing plants without listing them in the state’s “seed to sale” tracking system, at a secondary site 12 miles from its main operations on Springridge Road near Raymond. Other cultivators said they were told they had to limit cultivation to one site and that they were not allowed to use greenhouses.

But at a Thursday online press conference, Kris Jones Adcock, Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program director for the Health Department, said Mockingbird has since faced more repercussions.

“There is an order in place where they have some halt on operations and some impact on their operations and some capital improvements they have to do to satisfy that corrective action,” Adcock said. “They also had to destroy a number of plants in their inventory … I don’t know the exact number, there was upwards of $1 million of inventory destroyed — right at about 5,000 plants.”

READ MORE: Weed war: Medical marijuana competitors cry foul over Health Department’s response to company breaking rules

A Mockingbird official had said earlier this month there were about 20,000 plants growing at the site.

Mockingbird co-founder Marcy Croft declined to answer questions about the department’s actions on Thursday, but sent a written statement that it pledges to “continue to fully cooperate with the Mississippi Department of Health, our fellow growers, dispensaries owners and providers to ensure a robust and effective market in our state.”

READ MORE: Mississippi medical marijuana regulation ‘stuck in constipation mode’

Despite having 47 cultivators licensed and already growing tens of thousands of plants, the Health Department has reported it has only three staffers and no investigators and that the program is in a “provisional” phase. Nevertheless, State Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney on Thursday said he’s reasonably sure little marijuana is being diverted to the black market from the state medical program and that preventing diversion is a top priority.

“We are doing that to the best of our ability,” Edney said. “We are not going to be able to get that to zero, but we are doing as best we can under the regulatory authority given to us … and as we are bringing on more staff next month it will be easier.”

In this photo submitted to Mississippi Today, taken outside a Mockingbird Cannabis site near Raymond, marijuana plants are seen growing in a plastic-covered ‘hoop house.’

The department, which didn’t want the task of overseeing the state’s medical marijuana program to start with, has struggled with hiring cannabis program workers, Edney reported to the Board of Health recently. On Thursday, officials said they expect to have nine more staffers hired by the end of November and to be contracting private companies to help with compliance. The state , when it created the medical marijuana program, put the Health Department and Department of Revenue on a tight, 120-day schedule to get the program up and running. DOR is licensing and regulating dispensaries and sales.

Adcock estimated marijuana products could be for sale to patients by early in the new year.

Adcock said that as of Thursday the department had “provisionally” licensed:

  • 47 cultivators
  • 138 dispensaries
  • 8 processors
  • 2 testing facilities
  • 117 practitioners (prescribing doctors and nurses)
  • 491 cannabis industry workers
  • 406 patients

Edney said the Health Department has done “yeoman’s work” in standing up a new program in such a short amount of time. He said the “key tenets” of the program will be ensuring the safety of the public and “that we reduce any opportunity of diversion that we possibly can.”

“Make no mistake the agency has been regulating this industry from day one and will continue to do so as we go forward,” Edney said.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi medical marijuana regulation ‘stuck in constipation mode’

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Mississippi medical marijuana regulation ‘stuck in constipation mode’

Dozens of licensed cultivators have about 80,000 marijuana plants growing. Around 1,100 patients have signed up for , and 96 doctors or nurse practitioners are working to certify them. Small growers are complaining a large one has been allowed to skirt the rules.

But the has zero investigators — and only three staffers — overseeing Mississippi’s new medical marijuana program.

So far only one testing facility has been licensed and is only partially ready to test products. Plus, the health department’s program director still has another job — running the department’s Office Against Interpersonal Violence.

Health Department officials told the Board of Health on Wednesday that the agency is in a four-month “provisional” period with licensed marijuana businesses. As it finds problems or violations, it’s typically just issuing “corrective actions,” giving marijuana businesses a chance to straighten up without hitting them with fines or sanctions or calling in law enforcement.

The Health Department in a meeting with its board Wednesday pledged transparency in its oversight of medical marijuana, shortly before going into a closed door session to brief the board on specific active marijuana program investigations. During its public meeting, some board members’ questions were deferred to the upcoming executive session.

Some of the Board of Health questions Wednesday for the Health Department on marijuana were prompted by a Mississippi Today article last week about Mockingbird LLC, the largest marijuana grower licensed so far in Mississippi. Health Department documents and photos obtained by Mississippi Today showed the company did not follow growing regulations.

And the department’s response so far — to write Mockingbird Cannabis LLC a letter listing “corrective actions” and not answer questions — has competitors crying foul. They said Mockingbird was allowed to grow and harvest a crop improperly and on the cheap in plastic- and cloth-covered greenhouses that will allow them to beat others growing in buildings to market as the state’s medical marijuana program gets rolling. 

READ MORE: Weed war: Medical marijuana competitors cry foul over Health Department’s response to company breaking rules

During board questions Wednesday, Mockingbird was not mentioned by name, but Health Board member Jim Perry said, “There has to be consequences for not following the law … If we send signals you are going to be economically rewarded by trying to jump over the line, that will provide incentive for others to do the same … If there’s an active investigation we can’t talk about it specifically yet.

” … But if actors are doing things clearly not allowed — outdoor growing is clearly not allowed, you’re not supposed to see it growing from a public area, and you’re supposed to have security, locks, solid doors and walls — that is flaunting and it will create a culture for others, if somebody’s able, to economically benefit from that. If we’re not ready to enforce, then we shouldn’t have let them start growing.”

State Health Officer Daniel Edney, head of the Health Department, responded to Perry, “I wholly disagree we are allowing anybody to get away with breaking the law.”

“If you know what I know, they are not going to economically benefit,” Edney said.

“My attitude is to be very strong as a regulator, but we are not ready — we do not even have investigators,” Edney said. “Right now, if we investigated everybody the majority would fail, primarily the smaller growers … The provisional work is predicated on if there is no evidence of diversion or harm to the public. If there is, there will be forceful action. In the interim, if there is an opportunity to bring people into compliance, we will work with them.”

The Health Department is trying to fill 25 positions for its medical marijuana program, and has three investigators to start by Nov. 1. But Edney said the agency, along with others in state government, is facing a long lag time of several months in getting new hires “onboarded,” officially hired and on payroll. This is a problem for all positions, including nurses, and not just for medical marijuana, Health Department officials said. Edney said the agency is operating with a 47% job vacancy rate.

Perry earlier in the board meeting said the state Personnel Board is “constipated” in getting new hires in. Later, Edney said of the marijuana program, “I am struggling with a very immature program. It is now stuck in that constipation mode.”

Other cultivators had complained that Mockingbird Cannabis was being allowed to grow, in greenhouses and a plastic covered “hoop house” at a secondary site, 12 miles from its main operations on Springridge Road near Raymond. Other cultivators said they were told they had to limit their cultivation to one site, and that they were not allowed to grow in greenhouses.

On Wednesday, Cannabis Program Director Kris Adcock told board members that Mockingbird has a “tier VI” cultivation license that provides for unlimited growing, or canopy, space. She said this means the company can grow at multiple locations, unlike those with smaller more limited licenses.

Health Department inspectors on Sept. 14, after receiving complaints likely from competitors, found that a Mockingbird grow site was out of compliance with several state growing regulations. Among the department’s findings at the site: Mockingbird was growing plants in greenhouses with tarp or clear plastic walls (some rolled up and some with large holes in them) and lax security that included a loosely chained back fence gate with a padlock. 

State regulations say “all cultivation activities must take place in indoor, enclosed, locked and secure facilities” that have a “complete roof enclosure supported by connecting permanent walls, constructed of solid materials extending from the ground to the roof.” The regulations also specify a long list of stringent security requirements including “commercial grade locks on all external doors.”

Health Department inspectors, records show, also found that Mockingbird was growing plants without the required state “seed-to-sale” tracking tags attached.

Mockingbird representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comments after the Wednesday board meeting. But in a lengthy interview last week, the company’s CEO said it had corrected problems the Health Department pointed out and it plans to have marijuana product available soon — likely the first for the new program.

But Adcock told board members Wednesday that numerous recent reports about marijuana being available to patients soon is probably overly optimistic, in part because there will be a “bottleneck” from lack of testing companies and state investigators.

Adcock was asked by the board about the state’s “seed-to-sale” tracking system, whether it truly tracks every plant grown.

“If they tagged it and put it in the system,” Adcock said.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Medical marijuana companies say Mockingbird broke rules

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Weed war: Medical marijuana competitors cry foul over Health Department’s response to company breaking rules

One of the largest operators in Mississippi’s fledgling industry did not follow regulations, according to Department of Health documents obtained by Mississippi Today.

But the department’s response so far — to write Mockingbird LLC a letter listing “corrective actions” — has competitors crying foul. They say Mockingbird was allowed to grow and harvest a crop improperly and on the cheap in plastic- and cloth-covered greenhouses that will allow them to beat others growing in buildings to market as the state’s medical marijuana program gets rolling. 

They also say the department appears to be giving big-money Mockingbird special treatment that will shut out others, particularly smaller home-grown Mississippi companies.

“(Mockingbird) has come in and thrown a lot of money around and they are expecting to be pandered to,” said Zack Wilson, chief operating officer of Good Flower Farms, a smaller grower in Potts Camp. “Pictures don’t lie. They have broken the damned law. What is the state going to do to them? That’s what everybody wants to know.”

Others in the industry shared similar sentiments but would not comment publicly. Mississippi Today was supplied photos taken from outside one of Mockingbird’s growing sites that show what appear to be violations of state regulations. One regulation is that “cultivation activities are not visible or accessible to the public.” Through a records request, Mississippi Today obtained Health Department photos and correspondence documenting other problems.

Health Department inspectors on Sept. 14, after receiving complaints likely from competitors, found that a Mockingbird grow site was out of compliance with several state growing regulations. Among the department’s findings at the site: Mockingbird was growing plants in greenhouses with tarp or clear plastic walls (some rolled up and some with large holes in them) and lax security that included a loosely chained back fence gate with a padlock. 

In this photo submitted to Mississippi Today, taken outside a Mockingbird Cannabis site near Raymond, marijuana plants are seen growing in a plastic-covered ‘hoop house.’

State regulations say “all cultivation activities must take place in indoor, enclosed, locked and secure facilities” that have a “complete roof enclosure supported by connecting permanent walls, constructed of solid materials extending from the ground to the roof.” The regulations also specify a long list of stringent security requirements including “commercial grade locks on all external doors.”

Health Department inspectors, records show, also found that Mockingbird was growing plants without the required state “seed-to-sale” tracking tags attached.

Mockingbird’s CEO, in a lengthy interview with Mississippi Today, said the company has corrected minor issues and that the complaints are sour grapes from competitors because the company took a “calculated risk” investing millions before a state program was approved, giving it an edge on competition. It plans to have marijuana product ready soon, likely the first major batch for the program lawmakers approved this year after years of debate and stalls.

“I will tell you we haven’t done anything we didn’t disclose to the Department of Health and in our application,” said Mockingbird CEO Clint Patterson, a former prosecutor from Oklahoma. “We feel like we have gone above and beyond to be good citizens, compliant with law enforcement and compliant with the Department of Health.”

Patterson said that of the 15,000 or so plants Mockingbird was growing at its secondary facility, only 30-50 did not have tags. He said the company had tags for the plants, but just hadn’t attached them and quickly rectified that.

Law enforcement also received calls about Mockingbird, and state Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics officers went out to the site and looked into it. But he said once they learned Mockingbird was a licensed grower, they backed off. He said the way state medical marijuana laws are written, the Department of Public Safety cannot participate in regulating the industry, and it would be up to the Health Department to call them in “if they felt something was egregious enough.”

Health Department officials refused to answer Mississippi Today’s questions about the company.

The greenhouse effect

It’s unclear whether Mockingbird’s cultivation license covers the former plant nursery where inspectors found issues. The site, at a property called Standing Pine, is about 12 miles away from Mockingbird’s licensed indoor growing facility outside Raymond, which is listed as its “physical address” on the state’s registry of medical marijuana cultivator licenses.

Cultivators are allowed only one growing license. Mockingbird says its license covers the Standing Pine site on Parsons Road as well as its main indoor growing facility on Springridge Road. Patterson said Mockingbird clearly stated in its application that it planned to use the Standing Pine location and supplied multiple photos, including pictures of the greenhouses it planned to use, and other information in its roughly 700-page application.

Competitors say this is bunk, that cultivation licenses are supposed to be for one location, and that they were told they couldn’t grow in greenhouses.

Wilson said he had bought 15 greenhouses before the medical marijuana program was up and running, but was later told by the Health Department he couldn’t use them, so he built a structure with 7-foot tall steel walls. He said another grower he knows was also not allowed to use greenhouses he had.

Growing in greenhouses allows faster, cheaper growth of a type of marijuana plant that can be used for processing into edibles and other products. In legislative debate and hearings on medical marijuana, proponents assured reluctant lawmakers that the state’s program would be secure and strictly regulated and growing would be “indoors” to provide more security, prevent contamination and make regulation easier. At the time, farmers in the Delta complained that they were being shut out of the program in part because of the high cost of constructing such facilities.

“I have five different places I would love to grow at right now, but they wouldn’t let me grow at five different addresses,” Wilson said. “We were told it all has to be at the same location … If somebody puts in a 770-page application, that’s not an application, that’s trying to blanket them with paperwork … What if I put something in my (application) that I wanted to use butt-naked school children for cultivation and they didn’t catch it? Just because you put something in there and the department overlooked it doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Mockingbird facility photos from the Mississippi Department of Health.

The department’s public registry of licensed cultivators lists Mockingbird’s cultivation facility for its license as “physical address” 1577 Springridge Road. State regulations say, “A license shall be issued for the specific location identified on the application, and is valid only for the owner, premises and name designated on the application and Department issued license and the location for which it is issued.” Patterson points to this regulation as allowing the Standing Pine cultivation on Parsons Road. Others point to it as clearly not allowing it.

State Rep. Lee Yancey, one of the lead drafters of the state’s Medical Marijuana Act, declined to answer most questions about the issues with Mockingbird. He said for now the Health Department is in charge of interpreting what the rules are and that, “If the statute is not clear enough, we will address it (in the ).”

As for growing facilities, Yancey said, “My understanding was that it was to be an enclosed, locked facility, but how you define that — I guess that’s the issue. Right now, the Health Department will interpret what that means … I think the legislative intent was walls and a ceiling and a floor … We will be looking at tweaks to things in January.”

Sen. Kevin Blackwell, the lead drafter of the legislation, could not be reached for comment and did not respond to a message seeking an interview.

‘Hoop houses’ and ‘Dutch sunhouses’ 

Patterson, in a lengthy telephone interview with Mississippi Today with a Mockingbird lobbyist listening in, said he believes his company has been compliant with all regulations and “they had some corrective action for us and we complied … very, very quickly.”

“They made it very clear they weren’t issuing violations, they were issuing a corrective action,” Patterson said. “… When we applied, we were very upfront about what we were going to do and where we were cultivating. We spent $30 million in the state of Mississippi, and we hired Mississippi people and we bought our supplies in Mississippi and we did this before there was a program, because we believed in the voice of the people in wanting this law passed — they voted resoundingly on Initiative 65, a mandate … This is typical in this industry that when a program starts, whoever has taken that calculated risk, the competitors will typically complain.”

During the lengthy interview, Patterson explained that “our main structure (at Standing Pine) is a Dutch-style sunhouse, that has a permanent foundation, like a foundation you would see in a house — concrete, plumbed, has drainage in it and permanent structured walls, has retractable function.”

“When they approved our application, we assumed we were good,” Patterson said. “But when they came back out, they want hard plastic on the walls.”

Patterson said he was unfamiliar with details of Health Department photos showing walls with no covering or with thin, clear, plastic or torn cloth tarp covering. But he said all the buildings are being secured per Health Department requests and follow-up, including a teleconference between the department and Mockingbird officials.

Patterson denied that Mockingbird had been growing marijuana in “hoop houses,” which are half-circle shaped greenhouses made of curved tubing and covered in plastic sheeting.

“Greenhouses are fundamentally different than hoop houses,” Patterson said. “… We are only growing in greenhouses that have concrete foundations with draining and plumbing.”

But when sent a copy of a photo of a hoop house with open walls with marijuana plants growing at Standing Pine that was supplied to Mississippi Today, Patterson corrected his earlier statements.

“As to the picture, I’ve asked internally and it appears that was a staging area staff set up this summer to apply (plant tracking) tags,” Patterson wrote in a text message after the interview. “We spotted that with our own internal controls. Management at the facility identified that was not an appropriate building, and all plants were moved. Again, we found that ourselves. Those plants weren’t there when Dept of Health inspected us and they aren’t there today. We never flowered plants in that building.”

Mockingbird facility photos from the Mississippi Department of Health.

Also during the interview, Patterson said the medical marijuana law passed by the Legislature refers to greenhouses and 3-foot tall walls with retractable tops in the definition of acceptable growing facilities. But later, he messaged: “I checked with our legal folks and the words greenhouse and three-foot high walls was in earlier drafts, but was not in the final bill.

“However, to be clear, the definitions do allow for a permanent grow house that we operate, and as I mentioned previously, we did show the department exactly where and how we intended to grow.”

During his interview, Patterson repeatedly referred to Mockingbird’s 163,000 square-foot facility that once housed the state Department of Revenue on Springridge Road as “our indoor facility,” and said no plants were ever transferred from Standing Pine to the Springridge Road building.

“The idea that we would do that and expose plants to spiders, mites and pests and then move them to our indoor facility where it’s completely pristine … the idea that we would do that and expose our indoor to all those pollutants is ridiculous,” Patterson said.

But when asked if that meant he considered Standing Pine to be outdoor growing, Patterson said, “I’ve never called Standing Pine outdoor. A greenhouse is considered indoor in the industry. Outdoor is in a field, row cropping.”

Mockingbird facility photos from the Mississippi Department of Health.

Corrective actions, plants harvested

It’s unclear what, if anything, the Health Department — which didn’t want the task of regulating medical marijuana in the first place — will do, beyond sending Mockingbird Cannabis LLC the Sept. 21 letter telling it to take “corrective actions.”

Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot, when Mississippi Today asked to interview someone at the department, initially said, “I am always happy to answer any written questions.” But after being provided written questions, she said, “I am unable to answer your questions at this time as this is an ongoing investigation.”

But the Health Department’s letter to Mockingbird didn’t indicate any ongoing investigation and said, “Please notify our office, in writing, of completion of Mockingbird’s corrective actions and provide documentation and timelines of actions taken.”

Mockingbird responded in writing to the Sept. 21 letter on Oct. 3, noting that, “While I understand that our inspection was instigated by false, anonymous accusations submitted to your department, we are nevertheless pleased that you were able to tour and inspect both of our cultivation facilities and welcome any suggestions for improvement.”

The company said it had immediately tagged the untagged plants inspectors found and “processes have been updated to ensure no future delays in applying tags.”

Mockingbird facility photos from the Mississippi Department of Health.

The company also said it has hired a new security company — prior to the inspection — and is beefing up security at Standing Pine, including “increased internet capacity, installed additional camera systems, and ordered updated siding and doors for certain greenhouses” and that it will not add new plants there until everything is updated.

“Per our discussion, Mockingbird will harvest the majority of plants at the greenhouse facility today, emptying the largest greenhouse and preparing it for security updates,” the letter said. “We have also worked to update security at the three smaller greenhouses on the property to hold any remaining plants that could not yet be harvested.”

‘This will put other people out of business’

The regulations the Health Department helped promulgate and is supposed to enforce have a “Schedule of Disciplinary Actions” including large fines, suspension or revocation of licenses for a variety of first, second and third violations. Its rule says, “In addition to any applicable criminal actions, the following schedule shall be used when administratively disciplining medical cannabis establishments for violating statutory and/or regulatory requirements.” It says the department has the right to increase the penalties based on aggravating circumstances but does not address waiving the penalties that “shall be used.”

Those penalties include a fine of $5,000 for first offense “Failure to comply with security requirements,” a fine of $5,000 for “Failure to accurately track inventory,” and a $10,000 fine and one week suspension for “Willful failure to accurately track inventory.”

Activities outside of the rules, state regulations say, “may be considered suspected illegal activities and reported to proper authorities as such.”

Wilson said Mockingbird being allowed to harvest the greenhouse plants means, “They were given a head start, a huge advantage over everyone else in the state.”

“They grew enough marijuana in that one grow to fully stock every dispensary — millions of dollars worth,” Wilson said. “… It’s funny, they were the ones that lobbied to get all these rules into place to make it harder for a small guy like me to get a license. Everything has to be indoor with solid walls … But then they just drown the state with paperwork and call their greenhouses indoors. No, hell, it’s not … If that place is legal, how come it’s not finished out yet?

“Yes, this will put other people out of business,” Wilson said. “What they have done is crush the small in this business.”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Medical marijuana could be available in October

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Podcast: Medical marijuana could hit the shelves in October

Melvin Robinson, the executive director of the Mississippi Trade Association, joins Mississippi Today’s Adam Ganucheau and Geoff Pender to discuss updates on the ’s rollout of its program.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Health Department: Mississippi medical marijuana months away

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-06-07 14:30:00

Waveland Mayor Looking To Open Medical Marijuana Facility In The City

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — It could be the end of the year before is available in Mississippi because businesses need time to receive licenses and to grow, test and prepare to sell the products, Health Department officials said Monday.

The department opened the licensing application process last week for patients and caregivers interested in using medical as allowed under a new state law; for…

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Medical marijuana application signups at over 1,800

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Mississippi’s medical marijuana application portal already has more than 1,800 users 

Mississippi’s license portal is shy of a week old but more than 1,800 people have already registered for online accounts to apply for licenses, the Department of Health announced Monday. 

“If you can shop on Amazon you can probably work through the portal,” said Kris Jones, the director of Mississippi’s new medical marijuana program.

The program is still in its early stages and leaders don’t expect medical marijuana to be available to purchase for another six months. 

“I know everyone would love for it to be up in running,” said Jim Craig, the director of the Office of Health Protection. “It looks like it will be the end of the year that we see products.” 

About 85% of those who have made accounts on the new portal are patients seeking treatment. But 15 businesses and nine medical practitioners have completed their applications, Jones said during a Monday press conference. A dozen people have also submitted applications for work permits, which are required for marijuana-related jobs. 

The new portal is the first step for patients to eventually receive a medical marijuana card; for doctors, optometrists and nurse practitioners to become certified providers; for facilities to receive licensing to grow, process and test marijuana; and for businesses and their workers to become certified to transport cannabis and dispose of its waste. 

The portal does not handle applications for those hoping to open dispensaries. Those applications will be processed by the Mississippi Department of Revenue. The department is to begin accepting those applications on July 1. 

READ MORE: Inside a $30 million bet on Mississippi’s medical marijuana industry

Jones said all applications that have come through the portal are still under review and the number of applications is growing daily. 

While hopeful medical marijuana patients can make accounts and begin the application process through the new portal, none of them can receive their license to buy medical cannabis until they’ve met with a certified doctor or practitioner. 

No one is certified yet to offer that care but doctors’ applications will be processed within 30 days, according to the program’s rules. Jones said approved providers and dispensaries will eventually be listed on the health department website to assist patients. 

Craig touted the regulation requirements deployed to manage the state’s processing labs, which are among the businesses that can now apply to be licensed. These labs will test THC levels – the chemical in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high – as well as for possible contaminants in products. 

Craig called this one of the key pieces to product safety in the state. Another safety measure is limiting advertising and marketing options so medical marijuana “isn’t something very attractive to kids,” Craig said. 

Medical marjinaua businesses cannot be on social media, for example. Businesses are limited to creating just a website and logo.

More than two dozen Mississippi cities opted out of the medical marijuana program. Although that limits where medical marijuana businesses can open and operate, it does not prevent licensed patients in those areas from using and buying medical marijuana. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Podcast: When can Mississippians get medical marijuana?

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Podcast: When can Mississippians get medical marijuana?

Ken Newburger, executive director and founder of the Mississippi Association, gives an update on Mississippi’s fledgling medical program, which was passed into law by the in February. Newburger said it will probably be late this year or early next year before patients can receive medical marijuana.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mockingbird Cannabis gears up to open medical marijuana operation

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Inside a $30 million bet on Mississippi’s medical marijuana industry

In an unincorporated area outside Raymond stands what its chief executive claims will be the largest growing and manufacturing operation in Mississippi, if not the southeastern United States. 

The 163,000-square-foot behemoth once housed the ’s Department of Revenue but is now the home of Mockingbird , a $30 million bet on the state’s medical marijuana industry.

The facility includes 16 growing rooms, each capable of producing 250 to 300 pounds of marijuana every eight weeks.  It will be operated by more than 200 employees, with the lowest paid workers making $17 per hour.

Clint Patterson, chief executive officer of Mockingbird Cannabis, said he expects that they’ll see the demand for that volume of product since 74% of voters approved the medical marijuana program. 

“I think that if we were really being transparent and honest, there’s probably a billion dollar industry in cannabis right now in Mississippi,” Patterson said. “It’s just not legal.”

Patterson, a former prosecutor and the son of a nondenominational pastor, is an unlikely marijuana kingpin. 

Even though cannabis was illegal in Oklahoma, Patterson’s home state, he claims he never thought of the drug as bad or dangerous.

“I was definitely for regulating and legalizing,” Patterson said. “So when that happened, I jumped in.” 

Patterson’s marijuana business in Oklahoma started small, with just a 1,200-square-foot lab that manufactured vape cartridges. That then grew into six different growing and manufacturing locations.

“Oklahoma is the hardest place to compete in the country, and we do what we do pretty well here,” Patterson said. “That gave us the confidence to go to other states that had better situations, business-wise, than Oklahoma.”

A look inside the 163,000 square-foot Mockingbird Cannabis facility, currently under construction in Raymond, Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

Slates Veazey, a Jackson attorney who advises cannabis businesses, said that it’s impossible to predict how big medical marijuana is going to be in Mississippi, but that it will undoubtedly be a large economic engine in the state.

“There’s a lot of interest in this new industry … in every state that has legalized medical marijuana you’ve seen big businesses and smaller mom-and-pop types pop up, compete and be successful,” Veazey said.

Patterson said that Mockingbird is the culmination of everything they learned from operating in Oklahoma. Putting all parts of the operation under one roof will reduce overhead costs. 

The science around marijuana production is also constantly changing, Patterson said. Everything from how the plants are lit and fed has evolved since they started building Mockingbird. For the former, they’ve switched from incandescent light bulbs to more energy-efficient LEDs that can be raised and lowered. They also partnered with Upchurch Plumbing to develop a computerized fertigation system, which combines the agricultural fertilization and irrigation processes to deliver nutritional cocktails tailored for the plant’s stage of development.

“What we thought we were on the cutting edge of two years ago, nobody even does anymore,” Patterson said “ … This really is the most evolved, state-of-the-art facility that we could even design.”

Patterson said that when medical marijuana was legalized in Oklahoma, large out-of-state companies came in and took most of the market share. As a result, the profits left the state. 

Knowing that Mississippi, like Oklahoma, is one of the poorest states in the nation, Patterson said he and his team decided they would work to prevent that if they were going to become one of the major players in Mississippi’s medical marijuana industry. 

“We took a lot of time, met a lot of people here and raised most of our money from … We’re going to make a lot of money here, and we wanted it to make sure it’d have the desired effect,” Patterson said. 

Mockingbird’s in-state investors didn’t back out after the overturned the medical marijuana program voters approved in 2020 on a constitutional technicality. 

“We got everybody together and said:  ‘Hey, 74% of the state voted for this. There’s going to be a program, it just might not happen right now,’” Patterson said. 

One of those investors is Leah Vincent of Pickens. Vincent pooled money with her husband in late 2019 to invest in Mockingbird.

After the state Supreme Court overturned Initiative 65, Vincent saw the move as just delaying the inevitable. 

“It’s f—ing Mississippi,” Vincent said. “They just have to drag things out. And it’s all about saving political face. I’ve lived here in Mississippi my whole life, so it was expected but still frustrating.”

Vincent and her husband see their investment as a retirement plan and are confident that recreational marijuana will be legalized in Mississippi eventually.

“We knew that Mississippi is going to be different (than other legal states),”  Vincent said. “But down the road it’s going to be bigger everywhere. I mean, it’s coming.”

A plumber works on the watering system in a growing room at the Mockingbird Cannabis facility, currently under construction in Raymond, Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

Even though it took longer than they anticipated for the to pass a medical marijuana bill, Mockingbird never stopped building. Patterson said he thinks other up and coming marijuana businesses did the exact opposite. 

“They’re going to be a little slower to start,” Patterson said. “We took a risk and bet on the state doing what we felt was the right thing to do, and they did it. So we’re ready and primed, and we’ll take advantage.”

Patterson estimates that Mississippi will collect between $150 to 200 million in tax revenue and another $50 to 100 million in business fees over the first full year of the medical marijuana program.

He didn’t provide a source for those estimates when asked by Mississippi Today.

That eye-popping figure would make medical marijuana a larger source of tax revenue than the state’s casino industry, which put $153,724,705 into the state’s coffers during the 2021 fiscal year. That would also rival the state’s alcohol, beer and tobacco sales, which generated a combined $283,667,815 in tax revenue over the same period.

That would also be more tax revenue than has been generated by Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry, which is widely seen as a de facto recreational program due to the lax requirements for getting a medical marijuana card.

“Ten percent of our population currently has a medical marijuana card … and two to three people are using each one of those cards … I had no idea there were so many ill people in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma state Rep. Scott Fetgatter told Mississippi’s Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee during a June 2021 hearing.

Between Oklahoma’s legalization of medical marijuana in 2018 and May 2020, the state collected just $110 million from the state’s 7% marijuana tax and another $138 million from state and local sales taxes, according to the Oklahoman.

The Mississippi Department of Health plans to start accepting online license applications for medical marijuana patients and businesses next month. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

28 cities opted out of medical marijuana

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At least 28 cities have opted out of medical marijuana, but the state is not keeping track

Editor’s note: A full list of cities and counties that opted out are included at the bottom of this story.

At least 28 cities and a dozen counties completely opted out of Mississippi’s program by the May 3 deadline, but the ’s health department isn’t keeping an official list of all the municipalities restricting businesses.  

It is also unclear if the Department of Revenue, the other state agency charged with running and overseeing the program, has any sort of official list of local governments who don’t want to participate. The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment by the time of publishing.

Both agencies will soon be accepting applications to administer licenses for the state’s long-awaited medical marijuana program. 

The does have an optional verification form for municipalities on its website, but in a statement MSDH said “there is no mandate for local governments to report to us that they are opting out.” The department also said it does not have a comprehensive list. 

As a result, the most complete list showing which areas have opted out of the program was put together by the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association, a business and advocate group. Their list shows cities around Jackson and counties in the Delta choosing not to allow dispensaries, cultivation and production facilities to open in their areas. 

Ken Newburger, the director of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said the law itself didn’t include a directive for municipalities to report. At the same time, the lack of an official list at this point shouldn’t embolden anyone to attempt to get around the system when it’s time to put in applications, he said. 

“If you try to open a dispensary in a city that has opted out, the local officials have every power to 1. Stop you and 2. Report you to the state,” Newburger said. 

There has been some confusion in the week after the opt-out deadline. Flowood, for example, voted to opt out of all three categories the law allows cities to have a say in: distribution, cultivation, and processing products. Yet, some thought the city must have opted in because it will have a testing facility.

But testing facilities aren’t one of the categories municipalities can control – so the city’s medical marijuana status won’t affect the testing facility slated to open there.  

READ MORE: As Mississippi cities opt out of medical marijuana, business hopefuls shut out

Each county’s decision to opt out only covers its unincorporated areas, meaning some cities within opt-out counties are still able to have businesses in the program. Patients who live in opt-out areas can still possess and take medical marijuana. 

The trade association is working with advocates and entrepreneurs in opt-out areas to sign petitions that would trigger a special election over the matter. Local governments that opted out also have the choice to opt back in at any time.

Those that didn’t opt out by the May 3 deadline, however, don’t have any flexibility.

Beginning in June, the health department says it plans to begin accepting online applications for licenses for patients, medical practitioners, cultivation facilities, processing facilities, testing facilities, waste disposal businesses and transportation businesses. 

The Department of Revenue is responsible for licensing dispensaries and will start accepting applications in July. The agency now has waiver forms available that allow potential businesses to get permission from schools or churches to operate if they’re less than 1,000 feet away but no closer than 500 feet. 

Without a waiver, dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet away. The law also doesn’t allow dispensaries to be within 1,500 feet of each other. 

READ MORE: New medical marijuana law draws millions in Mississippi investment

Melvin Robinson III, the spokesman for the trade association, said so far the early stages of the program and its rules are rolling out as expected. 

“Everyone is excited as it gets closer to the date,” Robinson said.

Given the interest, Robinson said he won’t be surprised if the agencies handling licensing wind up hitting a backlog in applications. He expects their websites to be swamped once they start accepting online applications this summer.  

Newberger said the health department is using a portal for applications that has been used and tested in other states. He, too, expected an application rush.

“Not everyone who applies is going to get one,” he said. 

The Department of Health has said it plans on a 30-day approval period for its business and physician related licenses and a five-day period for patients. 

Cities that opted out of dispensaries and cultivation/processing

  • Amory
  • Belmont
  • Brandon
  • Booneville
  • Caledonia
  • Carrollton
  • Clinton
  • D’Iberville
  • Ecru
  • Flora
  • Gluckstad
  • Greenwood
  • Horn Lake
  • Kilmichael
  • Lucedale
  • Madison
  • New Albany
  • Noxapater 
  • Pontotoc
  • Ridgeland
  • Southaven 
  • Sumrall
  • Tishomingo 
  • Vaiden 

Cities that don’t allow dispensaries but do allow cultivation and processing

  • Winona 
  • North Carrollton

Counties that opted out of dispensaries and cultivation/processing (only applies to unincorporated areas)

  • Carroll County
  • Leflore County
  • Lincoln County
  • Newton County
  • Neshoba County
  • Pearl River County
  • Pontotoc County
  • Tippah County
  • Union County
  • Choctaw County
  • Lauderdale County

Counties that don’t allow dispensaries but do allow cultivation/processing (only applies to unincorporated areas) 

  • Jones County
  • Madison County

Clarification 5/11/22: This story has been updated to show Madison County has opted out of dispensaries but does allow cultivation.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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