Mississippi medical cannabis program developing at rapid pace

Published 8:55 am Saturday, October 29, 2022

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NATCHEZ — Mississippi’s medical cannabis program is moving ahead rapidly with more than a few compliance issues being worked out, state health officials said Thursday.

A brand new department with three staffers, soon to be nine, is overseeing “a brand-new program that no state agency has had any experience with,” said State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney.

“It’s kind of like building the jet as it’s already been flying,” Edney said.

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Lawmakers passed the Medical Cannabis Act in late January and by July 1, the state started taking license applications. 

Kris Jones Adcock, Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program director with the Mississippi State Department of Health, said this 120-day turnaround is “one of the fastest in the country.”

The state has issued licenses to 47 cultivators, eight processors, three disposal entities, two testing facilities, four transportation entities, 138 dispensaries, 117 practitioners, 491 work permits and 406 patients as of Thursday.

In Natchez and Adams County so far, there is one provisionally licensed medical cannabis dispensary listed on the Mississippi State Department of Health’s licensee list, Highest Care LLC at 131 Jefferson Davis Blvd. Suite D. There are also only 136 of 138 licensed dispensaries listed by the Department of Revenue, meaning other licenses may soon follow.

A second vendor, Coles Creek Cannabis LLC, with lists its address as 29 Red Fox Drive, Natchez, has advertised a “Southwest Mississippi Cannabis Conference” in Natchez to disseminate information to healthcare providers and to the community at large. The Natchez Convention Center is booked for two days on Nov. 11 and 12 for this conference, led by Rus Fairbanks MD of Vidalia, Louisiana.

Affiliates of Coles Creek Cannabis could not be reached for comment at the time of this publication. State health officials said they are legally unable to speak to any pending licenses not listed because they are bound to a confidentiality agreement with the prospective business owners.

A top concern of the state’s leading health agency is to prevent the diversion of cannabis to illegal markets. 

“We promote compliance during this provisional period,” Adcock said. To do this state has been conducting “pop-up visits” or unannounced inspections and responding to public complaints. 

“Every pop-up visit we’ve done so far has been an opportunity for education,” she said. “Nothing has gone without a blemish. People do have questions and compliance issues and we work through those compliance issues. Those on-site visits give us an opportunity to do that.”

One of the issues mentioned by state health officials has been failure to appropriately tag plants to prevent diversion.

While every single applicant has had its setbacks, state health officials emphasized that all licenses are provisional for that particular reason.

“That provisional period is what this is for,” said Liz Sharlott, who is the head of communications at the Mississippi State Department of Health. “It’s our opportunity to educate them. Everyone so far has had issues with different levels of corrective actions.”

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said he is concerned about the lack of information available about the medical cannabis program and how law enforcement will be expected to enforce compliance.

“We don’t know enough about what it’s going to entail,” he said. “I personally don’t know enough about it. We’ve been sent senate bills and different things. Law enforcement needs to be trained, the ones that are going to be called upon to enforce these rules and regulations.”

So far, Patten said his department hasn’t experienced an issue with someone being arrested for possession of marijuana with a medical card. However, Patten said he had people permitted to use marijuana ask to work at the sheriff’s office, which presents another challenge when hiring officers. His department does conduct random drug testing but hasn’t hired anyone that uses medical marijuana.

“We can’t hire someone with anything that is going to hinder their job performance,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s marijuana or aspirin. If we feel like it’s going to hinder you from being able to carry out the duties you are called to do, then of course we won’t be able to put you in that position.”