Jessica Rice, the executive director of the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association, talks with Mississippi Today’s Adam Ganucheau and Geoff Pender about the potential economic impact of a medical marijuana program in the state.
Read the full transcript for this episode:
Adam Ganucheau: [00:00:00] Welcome To The Other Side, Mississippi Today’s political podcast. I’m your host, Adam Ganucheau. The Other Side lets you hear directly from the most connected players and observers across the spectrum of politics in Mississippi. From breaking news to political strategy to interviews with candidates and elected officials ,we’ll bring you facts, perspectives, and context that helps you cut through the noise and understand all sides of the story.
You’ll also hear from our award-winning journalists who will share their insights as they cover the biggest political stories in the state. Joining us today is Jessica Rice, the executive director of the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association. Jessica, thank you so much for being here.
Jessica Rice: [00:00:43] Thanks for having me, Adam.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:00:44] And also joining us today is Geoff Pender. Geoff, good to see you.
Geoff Pender: [00:00:47] Hey Adam. Thanks.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:00:49] Yeah. So Jessica, I’m hoping that you can kick us off by for anyone listening, who isn’t familiar with your organization, just telling us a little bit about what y’all do.
Jessica Rice: [00:00:57] So I’m with the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association. We were formed in November of 2020, shortly after the November 3 election, in which Initiative 65 was passed.
We were formed to provide support to businesses that are not only plant-based or plant touching, but also auxiliary businesses like Grow Generation who is one of our sponsors who’s going to come in and have a facility in Jackson where you can go and get all of your supplies. Also other small businesses that will provide different kinds of utilities to plant touching based businesses.
And so we just wanted to create a space where all of the industry could come together on a business front and have a united voice.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:01:43] So I think just to add the quick context here, I’m sure most of our listeners understand what’s happened, but just to sort of recap where we’ve been and where we are. So like you said, November 2020 Mississippi voters voted overwhelmingly to adopt a medical marijuana program that was done through a ballot initiative.
So the way the language of the ballot initiative process in Mississippi worked was that it was enshrined into the state constitution on that statewide ballot in November of 2020. Fast forward, I guess, to May of 2021, early May, the state Supreme Court after a lawsuit was filed about the ballot initiative process itself over the medical marijuana initiative, the state Supreme Court in early May struck down the ballot initiative process. And in doing that, it also struck down the medical marijuana program that voters had just previously voted to enshrine into the constitution. So that’s about the high level of it. There’s a lot of, sort of in-depth in the weeds stuff.
In the weeds. No, no pun intended. We’ve certainly gotten into on this podcast, and Geoff you’ve obviously kind of taken the lead on the reporting of all that for us. You know, I was talking to you Geoff before we got started about this interview. And I know that you had a couple of specific questions that you wanted to kinda touch on, but just given the context, given all that, wanting to turn it over to you.
Geoff Pender: [00:02:59] Sure. Yeah. Welcome Jessica. It’s good to meet you in person. We’ve talked before, but one thing I wanted to ask you. You know, we had the second Senate hearing on the medical marijuana potential program. At this point, given what’s transpired how confident are you folks and the industry, how confident are y’all right now that we’re going to get a medical marijuana program anytime in the near future in Mississippi?
Jessica Rice: [00:03:24] Yeah. So we’re still very confident that we’ll have one. We have, you know, confidence in our state legislature that they’re going to get the program done. We have faith in the governor that he’s going to call the special session.
I think that all of these hearings are a testament to that good faith that they want to get this done for the people. They have heard you know, from their constituents that they want to see this accomplished. And we still have faith that that’s going to get done and done quickly.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:03:51] Jessica, I have a question.
I mean, y’all obviously launched, like you said, November after the vote, in order, I’m guessing to provide that support like you said to the companies who want to do business here. Take us to early May when that Supreme Court decision was issued. What was that like for a lot of the people and the businesses that had started sort of building up the infrastructure to start doing business here, whenever that program officially went into effect?
Jessica Rice: [00:04:20] Yeah. So we saw a lot of people, you know, calling in having questions about what that means for them, for their business, because not only do we have a lot of Mississippians who are entering the industry, we have a lot of out-of-state folks who want to come in and provide support or get involved as well.
So we’ve noticed that a lot of our members have slowed down operations, but not to a stop. People are still confident that we’re going to have a program that we’re going to move forward. So, you know, maybe instead of going at warp speed, which a lot of people were trying to prepare for that August 15 date, they’re taking time, they’re being a little bit more methodical about their business plans and just taking this extra space to make sure that they are a hundred percent ready to go when they get that green light.
Geoff Pender: [00:05:08] Jessica, one thing I was gonna gonna ask you, and you think maybe touched on it with talking about out of state potential investors or businesses. Just with the advocacy groups and as the debate has gone on about what kind of program we’re going to have here, there seems to be some sort of— I don’t know what you would call it, a rivalry. That’s probably not a good word, but some disjointness between what some people call big cannabis and others called the mom and pop and the local Mississippians.
I would guess y’all are probably at the epicenter of that if you’re representing both folks. But how does that work and will the market itself find some balancing act on that?
Jessica Rice: [00:05:59] That’s a hundred percent right. You know, the market will dictate that. But also that was kind of a purpose in forming the trade association was so that every player could have a space at the table, that we could come together whether you were a large corporation or you were a one-man, you know, store or shop or business or grower, and that you could feel like you had just as much a voice in developing this industry as someone who was coming from a large corporation and giving people a space to come and discuss and say, “Hey, I see that this is a problem for me. You may not be experiencing these problems because you’re situated differently, but how can we all work together to make sure that we’re all successful and come with a unified voice?”
Geoff Pender: [00:06:44] You think the legislature is going to take that into account? They have heard from numerous folks saying, “We don’t want to see fees to get started, fees for dispensaries.” Look, one time the legislature was looking at a quarter of a million dollar buy-in to have a growing operation. You feel confident they’re gonna adopt policy that is going to allow those smaller homegrown— no pun intended— businesses?
Jessica Rice: [00:07:11] I think that’s correct. I think that, and this is part of the language that I really appreciated from Initiative 65 was that word “reasonable,” you know, and that it was going to be reasonable for all Mississippians. And I hope that that’s something that the legislature keeps in mind as they’re developing this new bill, that we don’t want our fees to be so high that they exclude the very people who could benefit from this economically. You know, this is going to be a great thing for Mississippi patients. But I think it can also be a really great thing for economic development in this state. And we want to make sure that it’s accessible to everyone and to every Mississippian who wants to get involved and be a part.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:07:53] Jessica, I think there’s like a lot of hand-wringing going on at the legislature right now about what exactly that bill is going to look like if and when they do get there.
And we of course reported this week that—Geoff reported this week that at least—the Senate chairman who has kind of taken the lead for that chamber on medical marijuana says that he thinks they’ll have an agreement between the House and the Senate on a bill by August and possibly be ready to come into a special session by then.
We still don’t know what that’s gonna look like. You know, looking at how other states have done it. Geoff just alluded to some of the hearings that the legislature has had recently about how other states do it. You know, you look at our neighboring state, Alabama, who I think in the last year passed, what many would consider a pretty watered down version of a medical marijuana program where there isn’t, you know, there isn’t smoking of marijuana allowed. It’s only like for very critically ill patients, whereas other states have kind of gone a lot more wide open with it. And I think Mississippi’s program as it was enshrined under the constitution before it was struck down by the court was on the wide open end of that spectrum.
So I guess they’re hankering at the legislature right now between those two sort of ends of the spectrum. Is your organization involved in having conversations with lawmakers right now about what exactly that program should look like, or are y’all taking more of just kind of a— I don’t know if it’s passive is the right word to use, but just kind of waiting to see?
Jessica Rice: [00:09:19] Yeah. So we’ve, you know, done a little bit of both. We were very intentional after the Supreme Court decision came out to kind of take a step back, decide what that meant for us and for our members and what was going to be the best avenue forward. You know, we’ve taken a lot of time to talk with a lot of experts from other states, people within Mississippi, a lot of our members, other businesses, other trade organizations, you know, state organizations and national organizations that we’re affiliated with and are beginning those conversations with state legislatures so that we can say, you know, every state’s unique, you know, no two states are the same and we have a chance to make sure that this is optimal for Mississippi. And so getting kind of aspects from, you know, whether that may be Utah or Oklahoma or Alabama or wherever else that may be that, you know, we can look at those and see, but how do we combine those? Or how do we even, you know, chart a new path for Mississippi to make sure it’s going to be the best program for our state?
Adam Ganucheau: [00:10:24] Do y’all have a version of this that you think is optimal, to use the word you just used?
Jessica Rice: [00:10:30] Yeah. So we’re in the process of developing that and, you know, that’s what we’re going to be meeting with, you know, state representatives on you know, things that we would like to see, for example, you know, the reasonable fees for people to get in. We’re looking at some other questions that have come up about, you know, residency requirements, physician’s recommendation versus certification, things like that.
So we’re developing that policy and are having those conversations.
Geoff Pender: [00:10:56] I’m curious, just look into the future a little bit. You know, this is totally new to Mississippi, definitely, but, but not many other states, 30 something now. What kind of investment are we likely to see here with a medical marijuana program? How many businesses do you have signed up now? And then what crystal ball wise, is this gonna be millions of dollars, billions of dollars? What ‘s this industry going to do here, in your opinion?
Jessica Rice: [00:11:24] Right. So we have roughly 300 to 350 members, which some of those may be folks from the same organization, but a lot of those are unique organizations and businesses that are either already in the cannabis space in another state or are going to enter the cannabis space in Mississippi and may remain here or expand to other states, especially as we see federal deregulation and things like that. And so, you know, looking at other states especially, you know, Oklahoma, I know people love to make that comparison, but I think that it is a good comparison or a good state to look at far as projections, because they’re similarly situated as Mississippi population-wise, you know, cities and rural areas.
And so they have had a lot of success. They’ve generated $127 million in state and local taxes in 2020. So, and that was even, you know, with the pandemic going on, you know, the cannabis industry still was thriving.
Geoff Pender: [00:12:30] And that’s on hundreds of millions revenue or whatever. Wow.
Jessica Rice: [00:12:34] I think that, you know, that’s something that we can look at and expect to see Mississippi similarly situated in.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:12:41] Yeah, we hear a lot from, I mean, you kind of drew this distinction earlier, but we do hear a lot from the people who are focused on the health care side of this. And that of course is the purpose of medical marijuana program. It is interesting to kind of, to hear the business side of it, the economics side of it.
I have a question. I know that kind of the way that the constitutional amendment or the ballot initiative was written, it was a little bit confusing about like how you can brand yourself if you are starting a company in Mississippi. And there were pretty strong restrictions, as I recall on like marketing and advertising and that kind of stuff.
I’m wondering, I mean, your organization obviously doesn’t discriminate between out of state businesses and in-state businesses, but what kind of in-state response did you get from people who wanted to start medical marijuana businesses who live here already, who are born and raised here who wanted to be sort of a local sort of version of this?
How much of that did you get when you all founded in last November?
Jessica Rice: [00:13:44] Right. A lot, you know, and we are, you know, the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association, so our focus is always going to be first and foremost making sure that this Is good for Mississippi and good for Mississippians. The vast majority of our members are folks like you were talking about who are local to Mississippi and aren’t getting into the industry. And then we also have. A large subset of people who are from Mississippi who may live in other states or other parts of the country and want to come back and to get into the business.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:14:15] So people who like left to get into the business elsewhere who saw this opportunity to move back home. That’s really interesting.
Jessica Rice: [00:14:21] And I think that’s been great, you know that’s something that Mississippi really needs, you know, with our brain drain issues and just losing population, anything that’s going to attract people to the state or even back to the state, I think is awesome.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:14:36] Sure. Well, I’ve kind of asked the questions that I wanted to ask you. I appreciate you coming. Geoff, do you have anything else that comes to mind?
Geoff Pender: [00:14:42] Plenty, but as you mentioned, we may not want to get so much into the weeds pun of course.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:14:48] There’s so many puns like at our disposal here.
Geoff Pender: [00:14:50] Thank you for coming in, and I hope you’ll keep in touch with us and keep us posted as things move forward or are don’t perhaps from the business perspective on this. Very interesting, you know. I guess we’ll all be keeping a watch on what happens at the Capitol next.
Jessica Rice: [00:15:07] Definitely so, and thank you guys so much for having me on.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:15:10] For anyone listening who wants to sort of follow along with what y’all are doing or reach out to you, how can they do that?
Jessica Rice: [00:15:16] You can find us at MSCTA.org is our website.
We’re also on all forms of social media, Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association. You can also find links to those specific media platforms on our website.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:15:31] Awesome. Well, Jessica, thanks to you. Thanks again for being here. Like we said, it’s pleasure hearing from you and hearing a little bit about the work that y’all are doing and what y’all are looking for in the future.
So, thanks again.
Jessica Rice: [00:15:41] Thanks.
Adam Ganucheau: [00:15:48] As we cover the biggest political stories in the state, you don’t want to miss an episode of The Other Side. We’ll bring you more reporting from every corner of the state, sharing the voices of Mississippians and how they are impacted by the news. So what do we need from you, the listener? We need your feedback and support.
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Subscribe to our weekly podcast on your favorite podcast app or stream episodes online at MississippiToday.org/The-Other-Side. For the Mississippi Today team I’m Adam Ganucheau. The Other Side is produced by Mississippi Today and engineered by Blue Sky Studios. We hope you’ll join us for our next episode.