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Mississippi companies race to compete for medical marijuana licenses

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Owners of medical marijuana dispensaries in Mississippi are fighting wars across the state as they scramble for orders to put their stakes in the new industry.

The Mississippi Department of Revenue has already received 111 applications for dispensaries, which it began accepting on July 1. That’s more than any other business category, and it raised $4.4 million in application fees.

“Dispensary apps have created a race for who can apply faster to identify their area,” said Ken Neuburger, MD, director of the Medical Marijuana Association of Mississippi. “When you start drawing circles around Mississippi — 1,000 feet from the churches, 1,500 feet from every other dispensary — there’s not much land left.”

Neuberger was referring to radius laws that forbid dispensaries from opening stores too close to competing schools, churches, and stores.

So far, 27 companies — including growers, processors, conveyors and waste management — have applied for licenses with the Mississippi Department of Health, which handles these businesses.

The Department of Health has issued nine business-related licenses, giving some companies permission to start growing marijuana crops.

One of the state’s first industry pioneers, the hemp mockingbird was among the first to obtain its license. The company has invested $30 million in his 167,000-square-foot facility near Raymond, according to CEO Clint Peterson. To date, the company has obtained four licenses to transport, dispose, produce and grow medical marijuana and medical marijuana products.

Another one of the other first companies to get a license to grow marijuana is River Remedy and its CEO William Chessem, a native of Ridgeland. Chase, a Yale graduate and former investment banker, took a vacation while earning his MBA at Harvard to sponsor the new company.

“I didn’t make the decision to drop out of business school for a year for a little bit, but it’s very important,” Chessem said.

He was observing the local industry from afar, but the timing to be part of the new wave of Mississippi business brought him home.

Chism has plans to grow, process, manufacture and sell medical marijuana. Their flagship store will be in Byram, where they already have a 37,000-square-foot growth facility.

“We will be among the first on the market,” Chessem said, noting the availability of medical marijuana products to patients. “We have completed our planting construction and are ready to enter the market fairly soon this fall.”

Chessem said Remedy has positioned himself to be a mid-size player in the new Mississippi industry. It is much larger than the small farmer but not as big as some of the others in the early market.

Southern Crop, which already has a medical marijuana business in Louisiana, has obtained licenses to grow and process. The company’s CEO, pharmacist Randy J. Meyer, announced that the company was the first in Mississippi to receive a license issued to begin growing marijuana and processing products on July 8. It will happen at its Meridian facility.

Newly established businesses in the state are also looking for workers. Seventy-two people statewide are awaiting their permits to work in the medical marijuana industry and 58 have already received their permits, according to the Department of Health.

Chism, for example, plans to hire about 40 people from agriculture technicians to traditional accounting and human resources jobs. He said companies know Mississippi residents won’t have direct factory experience unless they’ve worked out of the state and that shouldn’t stop people from applying.

“Really, it’s about learning quickly, strong attention to detail, and passion for what you do,” Chase said.

Most of the new medical marijuana companies in the state advertise competitive pay, ranging from $15 to $17 an hour.

The health department is still processing 40 requests for practitioners — nurses, doctors, and optometrists — to be able to see patients. Section 24 granted licenses to practitioners, allowing them to prescribe medical marijuana labels to patients.

So far, only 13 patients have received medical marijuana cards and another nine have applied. There is no medical marijuana yet available for purchase in Mississippi.

Newburger said that number is not indicative of demand.

“Patients don’t jump up and down to get a card they can’t use,” he said.

He expects that number to explode once medical marijuana products close to sale and doctors and other providers better establish their new medical marijuana practices.

He said other businesses, such as farmers and processors, would also continue to operate steadily. Many are dealing with supply chain slowdowns as they build their growing facilities and finalize their plans.

The applications are also complex. Chase said that when he set up his planting spot on June 1, it totaled hundreds of pages of documents.

None of the more than 100 clinics they hoped for a response had heard of whether their applications had been accepted. By law, the Department of Revenue has 30 days to process it.

DeAundrea Delaney, partner at Hemp World, hopes to run a dispensary after years of selling CBD. She was still finalizing her order this week.

“I’m taking my time and making sure everything is okay,” she said. The application fee is non-refundable.

Between application and actual licensing costs, dispensaries are on the hook for $40,000.

Delaney hopes to open a dispensary in Pearl. She said potential dispensaries were polite, trying to figure out where the others were going so they wouldn’t interfere with each other. In the end, it’s a gamble and you don’t expect everyone to play well.

“I didn’t know it was actually going to be 100,” she said Wednesday. “This is exciting, but, oh my God, I better hurry.”

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