Inside a $30 Million Bet on Mississippi’s Medical Marijuana Industry

In an unincorporated area outside of Raymond is what its CEO claims is the largest medical marijuana growing and manufacturing operation in Mississippi, if not the southeastern United States.

The 163,000 square foot behemoth once housed the state’s Department of Revenue but is now the headquarters of Mockingbird Cannabis, a $30 million bet on the state’s medical marijuana industry.

The facility includes 16 grow rooms, each capable of producing 250 to 300 pounds of marijuana every eight weeks. It will be operated by more than 200 employees, with the lowest paid workers earning $17 an hour.

Clint Patterson, general manager of Mockingbird Cannabis, said he expects they will see demand for this volume of product since 74% of voters approved of the medical marijuana program.

“I think if we were really transparent and honest, there’s probably a billion-dollar cannabis industry right now in Mississippi,” Patterson said. “It’s just not legal.”

Patterson, a former prosecutor and son of a nondenominational pastor, is an unlikely marijuana kingpin.

Even though cannabis was illegal in Oklahoma, Patterson’s home state, he says he never thought the drug was bad or dangerous.

“I was definitely for regulation and legalization,” Patterson said. “So when it happened, I jumped in.”

Patterson’s Oklahoma marijuana business started out small, with just a 1,200 square foot lab that made vape cartridges. This then grew into six different growing and manufacturing sites.

“Oklahoma is the toughest place to compete in the country, and we do what we do pretty well here,” Patterson said. “It gave us the confidence to go to other states that had better situations, business-wise, than Oklahoma.”

A look inside the 163,000 square foot Mockingbird cannabis facility currently under construction at Raymond on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Slates Veazey, a Jackson attorney who advises cannabis companies, said it’s impossible to predict the importance of medical marijuana in Mississippi, but it will undoubtedly be a major economic driver in the state.

“There’s a lot of interest in this new industry…in every state that has legalized medical marijuana, you’ve seen big corporations and smaller mom and pop types pop up and compete and succeed,” Veazey said.

Patterson said Mockingbird is the culmination of everything they learned operating in Oklahoma. Putting all parts of the operation under one roof will reduce overhead.

The science around marijuana production is also constantly evolving, Patterson said. Everything from how plants are lit and fed has evolved since they started building Mockingbird. For the former, they switched from incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient LEDs that can be raised and lowered. They also partnered with Upchurch Plumbing to develop a computerized fertigation system, which combines agricultural fertilization and irrigation processes to deliver nutritional cocktails tailored to the stage of plant development.

“What we thought was cutting edge two years ago, no one is even doing it anymore,” Patterson said “…It really is the most advanced and modern facility we can even design. ”

Patterson said when medical marijuana was legalized in Oklahoma, big out-of-state companies came in and took most of the market share. As a result, profits left the state.

Knowing that Mississippi, like Oklahoma, is one of the poorest states in the country, Patterson said he and his team decided they would work to prevent that if they wanted to become one of the major players. of the medical marijuana industry in Mississippi.

“We took a lot of time, met a lot of people here, and raised most of our money from Mississippians… We’re going to make a lot of money here, and we wanted that to have the desired effect,” Patterson said. .

Mockingbird investors in the state did not back down after the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the 2020 voter-approved medical marijuana program on a constitutional technicality.

“We got everybody together and said, ‘Hey, 74% of the state voted for this. There is going to be a program, it may not be happening right now,” Patterson said.

One such investor is Leah Vincent of Pickens. Vincent pooled money with her husband in late 2019 to invest in Mockingbird.

After the state Supreme Court struck down Initiative 65, Vincent considered the move merely delaying the inevitable.

“It’s fucking Mississippi,” Vincent said. “They just have to drag things out. And it’s about saving political face. I’ve lived here in Mississippi all my life so it was expected but still frustrating.”

Vincent and her husband see their investment as a retirement plan and are convinced that recreational marijuana will eventually be legalized in Mississippi.

“We knew Mississippi was going to be different (from other legal states),” Vincent said. “But on the road, it’s going to be bigger everywhere. I mean, it’s coming.

A plumber works on the sprinkler system in a grow room at the Mockingbird Cannabis facility, currently under construction in Raymond, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Even though it took longer than expected for the Legislature to pass a medical marijuana bill, Mockingbird never stopped building. Patterson said he thinks other up-and-coming marijuana companies are doing the exact opposite.

“They’re going to be a little slower to start,” Patterson said. “We took a risk and bet on the state doing what we felt was the right thing to do, and they did. So we are ready and primed, and we will take advantage of it.

Patterson estimates that Mississippi will collect between $150 million and $200 million in tax revenue and an additional $50 million to $100 million in business fees in the first full year of the medical marijuana program.

He did not provide a source for those estimates when questioned by Mississippi Today.

This staggering figure would make medical marijuana a bigger source of tax revenue than the state’s casino industry, which has invested $153,724,705 in the state. coffers in fiscal year 2021. It would also rival the state’s alcohol, beer, and tobacco sales, which generated combined tax revenue of $283,667,815 in the same period.

It would also be more tax revenue than that generated by Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry, which is widely considered a de facto recreational program due to lax requirements for obtaining a medical marijuana card.

“Ten percent of our population currently has a medical marijuana card…and two to three people use each of those cards…I didn’t know there were that many sick people in Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma State Rep. Scott Fetgatter to the Mississippi Senate audience. Health and Welfare Committee at a hearing in June 2021.

Between Oklahoma’s legalization of medical marijuana in 2018 and May 2020, the state only collected $110 million from the state’s 7% marijuana tax and an additional $138 million from taxes. national and local sales offices, depending on Oklahoma.

The Mississippi Department of Health plans to begin accepting online license applications for patients and medical marijuana businesses next month.

— Article credit to Will Stribling of mississippi today