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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Medical Marijuana: Local Entrepreneurs

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Seven years ago, Denisha Glenn was a kindergarten teacher at Sale Elementary School in Columbus.

While she enjoyed working with children, Glenn felt an irresistible desire to become an entrepreneur. Together with her sister, Amber, they started their own HR company, providing services that ranged from conducting background checks for enlistment to drug testing.

“But even when we were starting our HR company… I was always looking for the next opportunity,” Glenn said. “We started thinking about medical marijuana probably four or five years ago.”

This was the time when the first medical marijuana legislation was introduced in the state legislature.

“There were a lot of ups and downs along the way,” Glenn said. “There have certainly been times When it seemed like this would never happen, but we continued our research and put our plans together.”

What once felt like a dream at times is now a tangible possibility.

On February 2, Governor Tate Reeves signed Senate Bill 2095 In law, the establishment of a medical marijuana program in the state.

Denisha Glenn, 36, and Amber Glenn, 30, plan to start work on the land and build their own growing facility on family-owned land on Hairston Bend Road in eastern Lowndes County while opening a dispensary in their old Tuesday Morning storefront in Jackson Square. A shopping mall, a space they’ve rented for over a year in anticipation of the legalization of medical marijuana.

The Glenns hope to begin selling medical marijuana products grown in their own facilities in January 2023.

When the governor signed off on the legislation, he hit us: ‘It’s already happening,’ said Denisha.

Industry

There are four main components of medical marijuana operations in Mississippi: facility development, processing facilities, testing facilities and dispensaries.

Joe Max Higgins, CEO of Golden Triangle Development LINK — which leads industrial hiring in the region — has been working with groups interested in building growing facilities and dispensaries since Mississippians voted to amend the state’s constitution to legalize medical marijuana in November 2020. This Edit has been invalidated by the Mississippi Supreme Court in May.

“We had a group looking into a building for an extended operation at West Point on the day the Supreme Court announced its decision,” Higgins said. “It was a really exciting idea at the time, and we’re seeing interest now too. We probably have half a dozen groups looking at existing buildings in all three of our counties. We have another group just last week. We gave them our inventory. That’s in the works now.”

Higgins said interest groups have some broad plans.

“We’ve spoken to people who plan to grow facilities in the 100,000 to 200,000-square-foot range with capital investments ranging from $10 million to $60 million,” Higgins said.

So far, Higgins said, there have been no inquiries from groups hoping to process or test medical marijuana.

When the Glenn sisters began researching medical marijuana, they noticed how programs worked in other states. It dawned on them that even if Mississippi passed medical marijuana, they might not have a seat at the table.

“We went to a medical conference on marijuana and there were probably a thousand people, but we only saw about 10 black people,” Denisha said. “What we realized is that in some states it’s so expensive that a lot of black people don’t really have a chance. Some states said you should have a million dollars in the bank and the application fees were ridiculous, $100,000 in New Jersey and Maryland. We came out more insistent than any A while ago, but at the same time, we didn’t know if the barriers would be too high for us.”

This was also a concern for Ken Newberger, executive director of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, who lobbied lawmakers while drafting the Mississippi program.

“We have been really committed to making the industry more accessible to smaller operators,” Neuberger said. “I have to give a lot of credit to Senator (Kevin) Blackwell and Representative (Tree) Lamar for their work, particularly in this area. The legislation has a graduated scale of fees based on the size of the operation. This allows companies of all sizes to have a chance.”

The application fee ranges from $1,500 for a developing facility of less than 1,000 square feet and increases progressively to $60,000 for a facility over 100,000 square feet. Likewise, annual license fees range from $2,000 to $150,000 on the same scale.

Dispensary fees have not yet been determined.

“We wish we could be like Southern Sky (a group that started a large facility in Canton last week) and have a 20,000 or 30,000 square foot facility, but we are a small operation,” said Deneisha Glenn.

The Glens have not decided the size of their growing facility. Between that and their dispensary, they expect to hire 25 to 30 employees.

The Glens said they will begin clearing their land for the growth facility in the coming weeks. They also work on signage for their dispensary, bearing the name of their company “Holistica”. They have hired an attorney with experience in medical marijuana and are working to fund what Deneisha says will be a capital investment of about $3 million.

Obstacles along the way

If the past five years are any indication, the Glenns understand that there will be ups and downs.

“When the Supreme Court ruled against medical marijuana, we sat and cried for a day or two, and then went back to work,” Denisha said. “We just won’t give up.”

Some unresolved obstacles are now coming to the fore.

In the days after the law was signed, the Tennessee Valley Authority released a statement that raised some doubts about whether TVA could provide electricity to medical marijuana companies. As a federally owned energy provider, TVA said it must comply with federal law, under which marijuana is an illegal substance. TVA has since toned down its language, and the general consensus is that medical marijuana companies will have access to the power of TVA.

Another potential obstacle is that the law allows counties and municipalities to “opt out” to prevent medical marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdictions.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Glens yet.

The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, President Trip Hairston, said he had not heard any supervisors or county citizens asking the county to withdraw.

Denisha Glenn said after speaking with Columbus Mayor Keith Gaskin and city council members, she’s optimistic the city won’t pull out either.

“I spoke to the mayor and he was very supportive,” she said. “I also spoke to Section 6 board member (Jacqueline DeCicco) dormitory because our dispensary will be in her ward. She was fantastic, and board member (Rusty) Green was very nice as well.

“We feel really good about how things are going,” she continued. “We were a little worried about what would be in the law and how it would affect us. But, really, there weren’t any red flags. We are ready to roll out.”

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