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Legal gray area leaves potential cannabis growers in limbo

Published: Mar. 13, 2022 at 9:50 PM CDT
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NORTH MISSISSIPPI (WMC) - It’s been well over a month since the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act was signed into law.

However, potential cannabis growers in Mississippi are hesitant on how to proceed in growing their product.

Ambiguity in the signed legislation doesn’t specify if greenhouses are considered indoor or outdoor grow.

The difference is outdoor grow is strictly prohibited under the law.

“We fought so hard for these last two years, over two years, to get something passed,” said Zack Wilson with We are the 74. “Here we are, we have something passed, and now it’s another set of hurdles.”

Wilson, a resident of Byhalia, has been planning on building greenhouses for months, already setting up the framework for one on his property.

He’s put a pause on that after seeing greenhouses are not officially defined in the law.

You don’t have to look far in the 445-page bill.

On page 2, the bill reads “Cannabis cultivation facility” means a business entity licensed and registered by the Mississippi Department of Health that acquires, grows, cultivates and harvests medical cannabis in an indoor, enclosed, locked and secure area.

Wilson said in his conversations with his local legislators, the feeling is greenhouses do not offer the same level of security as a brick and mortar structure.

Wilson disagrees.

“A greenhouse is totally enclosed, so as far as I’m concerned that is indoor,” Wilson said. “Locked? There are doors. There’s a lock on it, just like any other building. A secure area? That means we put it inside a fence. Myself, personally, I’m in the middle of 200 acres. If somebody were to find my stuff, they would have to fly over it to find it.”

“It leaves everybody in limbo that’s actually going to do a greenhouse grow,” said Todd Franklin, owner of Franklin Farms.

Franklin built two greenhouses, 3,000 sq. ft. and 1,800 sq. ft. in 2021 before the original Initiative 65, the cannabis program Mississippians voted on in the 2020 elections, was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

He was ready to build more but has also paused construction due to the uncertainty of if greenhouses would be considered indoor grow.

“If you call the department of health, they tell you to go to their website. You click on their website and there’s nothing there,” Franklin said.

In our attempts to find some clarity from the Mississippi Department of Health, asking if greenhouses are considered indoor or outdoor grow, we were told the department doesn’t have an answer for us at this time.

“It is important to remember that beyond determining what is indoor growing – the same indoor security measures would apply. While the program is in development, I encourage you to visit or website and read the bill for answers,” an MSDH spokesperson said.

“Greenhouses are pretty much the industry standard. Why would we want to pull more from our power grid when we have mother nature above us,” Wilson said, gesturing up to the sun.

Both Wilson and Franklin said they would have 24/7 security systems on their properties once growing began.

Franklin doesn’t want to be caught behind the curve.

As June 2, the date to begin applying for licenses to grow and process cannabis, quickly approaches, Franklin is opting to cut his losses and start building metal structures.

Construction begins Monday.

“We want to be ready and operational when the state says we can, when we can apply for licenses,” Franklin said. “Either spend the money or be behind.”

He’s leaving the greenhouse frames up, though, hoping more clarity is brought on what classifies as indoor grow.

Onto zoning, Wilson had been planning to put a dispensary in a building on the corner of Highways 309 and 178 in Downtown Byhalia, renovating what was formerly Matthew’s Liquor Store.

Wilson thought he was in the clear on zoning laws.

He had all the local churches within 1,000 ft. of the building sign waivers saying they were fine with a dispensary being there.

Signed waivers means the distance limit in the law is lowered from 1,000ft. to 500ft.

One of the churches, however, even though they signed the waiver, is exactly 485ft. away.

“...so I’m 15 feet short in the 500 required by state law,” Wilson said. “Everybody in the community is for this. The city would’ve gotten an upgrade, this would’ve brought property value up, make the town look a little nicer, and get rid of an eyesore.”

Wilson says there is an amendment currently in the works in the state general assembly that would update the newly signed medical cannabis act to allow localities the power to use discretion on where to zone dispensaries within city limits.

Should that amendment fail, Wilson has a plan B for where to sell his product.

Where and how to grow the cannabis, however, both potential growers are hoping clarification from MSDH comes sooner rather than later.

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