As Mississippi’s first company to receive licensing for medical cannabis cultivation and processing in the state, Southern Crop and its relationship with its hometown of Meridian will be something to watch.
The company’s chief marketing officer, Yesenia Garcia, said the initial reception from the city has been very positive.
“The people of Meridian make it a great place to be, and being a part of this community is essential to the development of the city and the cannabis program,” Garcia said. “We strive to be good stewards by ensuring we provide competitive wages and career development opportunities and by supporting local groups.”
Meridian’s community development director, Craig Hitt, said Southern Crop hasn’t yet started hiring those who will operate the facility, which will not only grow marijuana but also process it – essentially creating usable marijuana for sale to retailers.
“There are lots of construction jobs on site and they have also hired a security group that is in place on-site 24/7 now, but they have not actually started hiring workers,” Hitt said. “In fact, I saw one of the Southern Crop guys at a recent event and they are saying around the first of the year they intend to be at full operations. In the next few months, there will be some jobs created.”
By some estimates, a large marijuana-growing facility will need to employ 150 to 200 people and some jobs could pay $50,000 per year. More than 100 medical cannabis growing and processing facilities have been licensed in the state with three in Meridian, which had a 3.8 percent unemployment rate as of September.
One job opportunity within Southern Crop is that of a cultivation technician. The company will pay $20 per hour and is looking for those over the age of 21, with a high school education or equivalent and a willingness to work weekends and some holidays.
Hitt said the opportunity to bring high-paying jobs to the area is just one of the reasons why Meridian seems to have reacted positively to the medical cannabis industry in the city.
“It has been favorable. In fact, I have been a bit surprised and pleased that it has been as favorable as it has been,” Hitt said.
In other parts of Lauderdale County, where Meridian is located, there was more hesitancy. The Town of Marion has opted out of allowing medical marijuana-related businesses and the county supervisors did, too, but county residents petitioned to force a vote on Nov. 8. The county’s voters were asked whether they were for or against allowing cultivation, processing and sales of medical marijuana within unincorporated areas of the county. Of the 14,918 votes cast, 8,190, or 58.4%, were in favor of allowing medical cannabis to expand into Lauderdale County, while 5,835 voters, or 41.6%, were against it.
Throughout this process, Hitt said, Meridian has relied on Southern Crop’s background in the medical marijuana industry.
“It is different for us because it is also new and we are kind of learning as we go, reading the legislation put in place. It has been very easy because most of these folks like Southern Crop have worked in the industry in other states and they have helped to inform us and bring us along,” he said.
Southern Crop was founded in 2020 by a small group of investors, including Randy Mire, a pharmacist from Louisiana. Mire is also the CEO and founder of Capitol Wellness Solutions in Baton Rouge, the medical marijuana pharmacy awarded the first license to dispense in Louisiana.
Garcia said the company wants to continue partnering with the city.
“[The] focus will be on community education that encompasses program structure, how to become a patient, the value of a regulated market and product selection,” she said. “The core of all the marketing we do is education and a focus on destigmatizing the industry.”
Southern Crop anticipates beginning sales of its product around Jan. 15, 2023. Meridian, like many other Mississippi municipalities, hopes citizens won’t need it, but there is a form available for complaints about licensed medical cannabis establishments on the Mississippi Department of Health website.
Story by Alexandra Landner