Cultivators, processers and dispensaries gear up for medical marijuana demand
TUPELO — Last year, Michael Alford was temporarily enjoying the retired life with his wife in Pensacola, Florida — en route to buying a home in Key West — when his plans suddenly changed.
When Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation on Feb. 2, 2022, allowing for the legal sale of medical cannabis, Alford knew a Key West home would have to wait. Alford had 16 acres on Old Belden Circle in Tupelo he believed was perfect for not only a medical marijuana dispensary but also to grow, cultivate and process all things cannabis on a single site.
So, Alford came out of retirement and started a medical marijuana business.
“This was not easy,” Alford said. “The Department of Health set the bar very high, not just with the qualification criteria but the monetary criteria. It was an extensive process. I had to hire CPAs and attorneys — and I was in the tax business for 30 years, and I had to hire them to get this all down and submitted."
Because medical cannabis is still illegal on the federal level, getting a bank loan was out of the question. Essentially, Alford's project is self-funded, and between the growing, cultivation and processing facilities and the BlueGreen Dispensary now under construction in front of them, he says he has invested north of $1 million.
"And I haven't sold my first gram of cannabis," Alford.
The 3,000-square-foot, on-site facility will supply Alford's dispensary. Later, Alford plans to add a two-level, 5,000-square-foot facility that will supply other dispensaries throughout the area.
"Hopefully the patient count will grow, and we can supply several dispensaries, but that count is really low right now," Alford said.
Walk-ins not allowed
Tabatha Estes is the director of operations for Green Magnolia Dispensaries in both Tupelo and Canton, along with three additional stores in the state in the process of opening. She said walking into a dispensary will get a person no further than the security window and doors.
According to the law, people can receive medical cannabis for about two dozen "debilitating conditions,” including cancer, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and PTSD. The law also allows for the treatment of chronic, debilitating pain using medical marijuana.
But before a person can purchase medical cannabis, he or she must take several steps.
Someone looking for treatment using medical cannabis must first speak to their physician to see if that’s an option. Once a patient gets approval, they'll get certification, and once that's received the patient has to go to the Mississippi State Department of Health's website and create an account on the patient portal.
Patients must then upload several documents to the portal before being issued a digital card. With this in hand, along with a valid state ID, the patient can then go to a dispensary where their cards will be scanned, allowing the state government to access information about the patient.
There are currently more than 160 licensed dispensaries across the state. However, most still aren't open because the supply of product is currently limited as growers, cultivators and processors work to bring more to the market.
State law requires dispensaries to sell only cannabis products grown in the state, and processors are required to send samples for state testing to ensure that quality standards are met.
Tupelo has perhaps the highest per capita of licensed dispensaries with 11.
Alford hopes to open his BlueGreen Dispensary on April 1, with help from a microprocessor in Mantachie, Hemnotic Cultivation, that has sold him product to process in the coming weeks.
TUPELO — Tupelo officials say medical marijuana dispensaries should begin selling product as early as this month.
Legal, but closely monitored
Everything a grower, cultivator, processor dispensary does is being watched closely not only by the owners, but by the state.
Security is paramount in the medical marijuana business. Surrounding Alford's facility is a fence topped with concertina wire, and some 21 cameras have a view from every angle, including on the double-lock doors. Motion cameras and infrared cameras also are abundantly present.
A veteran, Alford said the impetus behind getting into medical cannabis was the impact it can have on the lives of his fellow servicemen.
"I've seen what it can do in other states, and I hope to bring that to Mississippi," he said. "While it is a business, I think the biggest thing was the potential of getting the VA on board to help these guys function and have a better life. I've seen friends go from using 300 pills a month to taking none after going on medical cannabis."
For Estes of Green Magnolia Dispensaries, growing and selling medical marijuana is about helping people live better lives.
“There's a big misconception about (medical marijuana), and it actually will help people,” Estes said. “It's about de-stigmatizing and educating people that it's actually good for you. And if it’s not for you, then you don't have to take it."