Mississippi medical marijuana regulators announced that the largest cannabis grower licensed by the state so far was directed to destroy thousands of plants worth approximately $1 million for failure to follow regulations. The company, Mockingbird Cannabis LLC, was also ordered to halt some operations and make improvements to one of its cultivation sites, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. 

Voters in Mississippi legalized medical marijuana in the state in 2020 with the passage of Initiative Measure 65, although regulated sales of medicinal cannabis are not expected to begin until early next year, according to an update from state officials issued on Thursday.

In early October, an article and photographs published by Mississippi Today reported on a Mockingbird facility cultivating cannabis plants in a manner contrary to state regulations. Mockingbird had reportedly been growing plants in hoop houses at a site 12 miles from its main facility. The company had failed to enter the plants at the site into the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system and did not maintain the required security standards. A Mockingbird official said that about 20,000 plants had been growing at the facility.

In response, the health department issued a letter to the company listing corrective actions it should take but declined to answer questions about the situation. Competing medical cannabis cultivators protested, arguing that Mockingbird was permitted to grow medical marijuana without complying with regulations, giving the company a competitive advantage as the regulated market prepares to launch. Competing cultivators had reportedly been told that growing operations must be limited to one site and could not take place in greenhouses.

Mississippi Regulators Issue Sanctions

On Thursday, Kris Jones Adcock, the director of the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program, announced that further action had been taken against Mockingbird by state regulators.

“There is an order in place where they have some halt on operations and some impact on their operations and some capital improvements they have to do to satisfy that corrective action,” Adcock said at a press conference on Thursday. “They also had to destroy a number of plants in their inventory … I don’t know the exact number, there was upwards of $1 million of inventory destroyed — right at about 5,000 plants.”

Mockingbird co-founder Marcy Croft declined to answer questions about the department’s actions on Thursday, but sent a written statement to Mississippi Today pledging to “continue to fully cooperate with the Mississippi Department of Health, our fellow growers, dispensaries owners and healthcare providers to ensure a robust and effective market in our state.”

Although 47 cultivators have already been licensed to grow medicinal cannabis in Mississippi, the health department has reported that the medical marijuana program is in a provisional phase, with a staff of only three and no investigators yet hired. Despite the apparent lack of oversight, State Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney said on Thursday that he is reasonably sure significant amounts of marijuana are not being diverted to the illicit market and that preventing diversion is the department’s top priority. Officials said they expect to have nine more staffers hired by the end of November and to contract with private companies to help with compliance.

“We are doing that to the best of our ability,” Edney said. “We are not going to be able to get that to zero, but we are doing as best we can under the regulatory authority given to us … and as we are bringing on more staff next month it will be easier.”

Cannabis Coming to Dispensaries by Next Year

State regulators gave an update on the progress of rolling out Mississippi’s medical marijuana program, which was approved by voters nearly two years ago with the passage of Initiated Measure 65. Officials said that while progress on the rollout of the program is being made, dispensary sales of medical marijuana are not expected to begin until early 2023.

“It will be the end of the year or sometime early next year before product is tested and available,” Adcock said, according to a report from the Clarion-Ledger.

As of October 27, state regulators had approved medical marijuana licenses for 406 patients, 117 practitioners, 138 dispensaries, 47 cultivators, eight processors, three disposal companies and two testing labs, as well as 491 work permits. All of the approved businesses have been issued provisional licenses, which are valid for 120 days and allow state regulators to monitor the businesses before issuing a long-term license.

“I think we have enough practitioners now to take care of the patients that are currently certified, but we will be recruiting more,” Edney said. “We’re seeing increases every day in the number of practitioners that are interested in the program, and we’re seeing increases every day in the number of patients interested in the program.”

Edney added that the health department has done “yeoman’s work” in creating a new program in a short amount of time, noting that the “key tenets” of the program will be ensuring public safety and reducing “any opportunity of diversion that we possibly can.”

“Make no mistake the agency has been regulating this industry from day one and will continue to do so as we go forward,” Edney said.

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