State determines when dispensaries can open, advocates hope for January start
Patients who will be using medical cannabis for treatment of their special illnesses quickly discover that the state is using every safeguard possible to ensure their safety and the safety of the product they use. Regulatory controls are also in place to ensure that medical cannabis is not misused or obtained by those who are not supposed to receive it.
A Hernando dispensary this week announced its plans to open in January, expecting to start on Jan. 9 and be the first one to open in North Mississippi. That is not an opening date they can determine, however, according to Angie Calhoun, medical cannabis advocate, Founder and CEO of Mississippi Cannabis Patients Alliance.
Calhoun notes the Mississippi Department of Revenue (DOR) is in charge of determining when medical cannabis dispensaries can open and the department has yet to announce an opening date.
“The Mississippi Department of Revenue is in charge of opening the doors to the dispensaries,” Calhoun explained. “As of yet, they have not released an opening date for any dispensary. While we are all hopeful that they will open the doors in January, the official opening date has not been set.”
Another factor in determining when dispensaries can open, according to Calhoun, is that the DOR can’t announce an opening date until the Mississippi State Department of Health deems the product is safe enough to be dispensed.
Supporters of the medical cannabis law that was passed and signed in the 2022 Legislative session hoped dispensaries would begin to operate when the New Year begins. Calhoun said that issues in testing products have been a big holdup. She hopes dispensaries can open next month but there’s nothing definite set.
“The hold up has been that the testing facilities are running a little behind,” Calhoun explained. “There are very rigorous testing guidelines that they have to go through to make sure their equipment is properly calibrated and that it will test properly. In the end, what we want is safe, clean medicine for our patients.”
Patients who come to dispensaries, like the Hernando location expecting to open in January, will have gone through licensing and will encounter more regulation as they purchase their cannabis.
Only the patient can go into a dispensary and they have to be 21 years of age or older to go in. For patients under age 21, a parent or caregiver will be able to go in as long as they also have applied with the Mississippi State Department of Health to get a caregiver registry ID card.
The patients who enter will have been certified by a medical cannabis practitioner and who have been approved with an ID card from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
The dispensary will need to see the ID card provided before the patient can enter. Right now, Calhoun said no one has a card because MSDH hasn’t issued any.
“No patient at this point actually has a card because no dispensaries have opened,” Calhoun said. “They have approved 1,322 patients as of today (Dec. 30) but as soon as the dispensaries have opened the Department of Health will start sending out and emailing patients their dispensary cards to be printed or put digitally onto their phones.”
Once the patient is in the dispensary and their IDs have been checked, they will be able to go back and look with a vendor at the products and make a decision. The vendors are mandated to go through about 10 hours of courses to be able to help a patient. Every year they have to renew a certain amount of the hours, as well.
So, the process of getting medical cannabis can be somewhat tedious, but well worth it for the patients who are prescribed by doctors to use it. About 100 certified practitioners are ready to certify patients seeking medical cannabis for the debilitating medical conditions cannabis can address.
Calhoun said about 30 practitioners are listed on the alliance’s website who are ready and are actually able to certify patients.
The dispensaries that have been issued licenses from the Department of Revenue are listed in a downloadable spreadsheet on the department’s website. That listing includes six in DeSoto County, the Herbal Alchemy LLC location in Hernando that this week announced its intention to open. The others have Olive Branch, Nesbit, and Hernando addresses.
Calhoun’s alliance has a list of certified practitioners on its website, searchable by location. The alliance also has information on the medical marijuana ID card, a listing of dispensaries when they are able to open, and answers to questions and resource materials about medical cannabis.