It’s been 10 months since Mississippians began legally purchasing medical marijuana. How are dispensaries and cultivation facilities adjusting to a developing market and state regulations? There’s only a few growing pains, one CEO says.
That vote made Mississippi the 38th state nationally to carry some form of medical cannabis law on its books, but subsequent lawsuits and a decision by the state Supreme Court which ruled that the initiative should be invalidated delayed the process of implementing the ballot measure for more than a year.
A bill passed during the 2022 legislative session revived the program and placed it under the purview of the Mississippi Department of Health, which says the number of patients enrolled has risen from roughly 2,000 when sales began in late January to more than 21,000 by late October 2023.
“It obviously feels like it’s been a lot longer than 10 months,” said William Chism, CEO of River Remedy, a cannabis dispensary and cultivation company. “There's a saying in cannabis that this industry sort of operates in dog years.There's a lot of reasons why it evolves very quickly: lots of regulatory changes, it is a new market with a new customer base with a completely different set of regulations, and each state is its own beast in terms of what's allowed, what's not allowed and how the market operates.”
Located about 15 minutes south of Jackson in Byram, River Remedy is the first of its kind in Mississippi’s still-growing medical cannabis industry: it’s both the first dispensary to open in Hinds County and the first cultivation to ship product for wholesale in the state.
It’s also representative of a novel approach within the industry. River Remedy combines cultivation, wholesale distribution, research and development, and retail under one roof.
Customers, whether at home or in the waiting room of the Mississippi dispensaries supplied by River Remedy, can tune into a live Twitch feed of the facility’s many operations.
“We wanted to be as transparent as we could because so much of the uphill battle in cannabis is about education. On harvest days, for example, where they're actually taking down a room and drying out the plants. But we'll move this camera around to different parts of operation, whether that be gummy production or cartridge production or trimming, just to give people a sense for what's actually happening behind the scenes,” said Chism.
The facility now sells their own branded products in the front dispensary space while shipping wholesale products to more than 70 other dispensaries across the state from loading docks in the back.
Between those two areas is a space that feels more like a research laboratory than anything else.
In one room, a water filtration system utilizing reverse osmosis mixes with various nutrients whose measurements are dictated by both cultivators and an artificial intelligence program to irrigate hundreds of plants in several flowering rooms.
There’s also the living soil room – the first of its kind at River Remedy – where plants housed in organic soils are hand watered and given more attention than in other rooms, which use automation.
“It’s completely organic – no salt-based fertilizer but with worms and dirt and other nutrients,” he said. “We're just trying to see what happens and we think that there will be a niche part of the market for some organic type stuff.”
Across the hall, employees donned in white lab coats and safety goggles are surrounded by swiftly rotating beakers extracting THC from trimmed plants to make an organic rosin, which will eventually find its way into gummies, tinctures and even vapor cartridges sold in the dispensary.
By centralizing all stages of the cultivation, production and retail process, Chism says the facility is focusing on adjusting to Mississippi's regulations while also preparing for possible changes in an industry defined by them.
“There are other features of quality that are harder to quantify, and the only way we're going to know is if we experiment.Those are just things we're trying to figure out all the time, and right now in this market where candidly, the market is oversupplied with cannabis flower, we can take our time and experiment and not overproduce,” said Chism.
“Now we've rightsized our production to meet the market demands, but over time we can double that with the other part of the facility here. So right now we're just sort of growing with the market and we think the market has largely adopted this mindset of slowing down production, don't get too over your skis, produce high quality products and try to sell them.”
He also says that states vary widely in regulations required of medical wholesalers, such as how much patients can buy within a given period of time, as well as what methods cultivators can and can't use to grow the plants.
One such regulation – that medical marijuana grown in the state must not be visible from the outside – has prevented facilities from harnessing the power of the sun to help grow plants. Because Mississippi cannabis producers can only operate indoors with artificial lighting, overhead costs tied to utilities are much higher.
Part of the state law allowing the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana products also bans operators from utilizing paid marketing such as billboards and internet advertisements to build their brand.
A number of those regulations, among others, comprise what Chism described as a rolling “wish list” for future legislative sessions.
“We hope there will be some movement in the legislature in the spring. One of the big things on our wish list is purchasing limit increases and smoothing out the time periods over which you can buy, which can be confusing for a lot of people,” said Chism.
“The big thing is adding additional qualifying conditions – the big ones are insomnia, depression and anxiety. I can't tell you how many people that come in here that can't get certified in the program because they have insomnia, but that's not a qualifying condition. And our legislators are aware that this is high on the wish list for us.”
It’s projected that Mississippi's medical marijuana industry will reach $300 million in revenue by 2026.