Tony Barragan, one of four medical marijuana dispensary license holders in Lafayette County, started Hybrid Relief North Mississippi in early 2022 to provide medical marijuana to the Oxford community.
As such, he is one of the thousands of people in the state who are looking for business opportunities in the wake of Mississippi’s new medical marijuana law, and he is one of many who also have a personal reason for promoting the health benefits of cannabis.
Barragan has been involved in the launch of eight businesses in Oxford, including Bim Bam Burgers and Wings and Joysticks, but it was his battle with mental illness that he said ignited his interest in the cannabis plant, first with CBD and later medical marijuana.
“(It was) depression, which I was dealing with in a major way. That’s what really caught my attention,” Barragan said.
As a user of CBD, Barragan found the treatment helped him focus so that he “wasn’t thinking about all (his) problems that (he) had in the middle of the beginning phase of a divorce.”
In 2019, he opened Hempville CBD in Oxford. There he sells CBD products in the form of oils, edibles and other preparations.
“I fell in love with it. I love everything about it. The plant, the benefits, the fact that hemp-derived CBD was legal in Mississippi,” he said.
When the state of Mississippi legalized medical marijuana in early 2022, Barragan knew he wanted to open a dispensary as soon as possible.
According to Dr. Charles Dibrell, chair of Entrepreneurial Excellence and Professor of Management at the University of Mississippi, those interested in starting their own businesses typically fall into two categories.
“Those who are really passionate about it … and those who graduate and have the skills look at a wide-open industry and use their business skills and knowledge on how to run a business to tackle this industry.”
Kelly’s Green, the first female-founded medical marijuana company in Mississippi, was dreamed up by two lawyers, Jackson, Miss., native Kelly Williams and her co-founder, Chad King. The company holds a license to open a dispensary in Forrest County.
King said the two have long been interested in the laws surrounding marijuana use and “got started representing parents who had lost their children to Child Protective Services because they had tested positive for marijuana.”
In 2017, the pair began advocating to change Mississippi law to prevent children from being taken away from their families, which was a precursor to their work with other advocates on Initiative 65, the ballot measure to allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana.
“Kelly was the very first donor to Initiative 65, and they were out on the street getting signatures to move the initiative along,” King said.
Williams has other personal connections to the fight to bring medical marijuana to Mississippi. The company website reads, “When my father died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2018, I found myself wishing he had more options for treatment and pain relief,” Williams said. “Also, when my own niece was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, my eyes were opened to the intensity and senselessness of her pain and suffering.”
At the Lucky Leaf Exposition, an event at the Jackson Convention Complex in October that promoted medical marijuana businesses in the state, attendees didn’t have to look far to find someone hoping to align their passion for medical marijuana with the potential to make a profit.
Expo attendee and lifelong Mississippi resident David Hutchins has been in the marijuana industry for 16 years through his craftsmanship of vaporizers using what he calls “the world’s finest and rarest woods.” Thanks to woodworking skills he says he inherited from his dad, he creates pipes and vaporizers for marijuana use.
He hopes the new market for medical marijuana in Mississippi will help minimize what he calls the “touchy stereotype and stigma” around the nature of his work.
“I feel like it is a great fit for me to be able to do what I do in manufacturing tools to medicate people with and now being able to give them that access to the medication as well,” Hutchins said. He noted he also is considering opening his own dispensary.
In the marijuana business where there are strict regulations at the federal, state and local levels, high taxes on items sold in dispensaries and high agricultural and machinery costs, it takes a special person to get involved in a business with so many obstacles.
Dibrell, the chair of Entrepreneurial Excellence at UM, said successful entrepreneurs don’t have to have extreme confidence or ability to take risks, but there has to be “a good team around you.”
“You don’t need to be an introvert or an extrovert,” he said. “Find where your weaknesses are and bring (those who can make up for them) onto the team.”
According to Cannabis Business Plans, Mississippi’s medical marijuana industry could generate as much as $800 million in sales by 2024.
Most people will get into related businesses for profit, but some maintain there are other factors that motivate them.
“We are passionate about this industry. We love what we do,” Hybrid Relief North Mississippi’s Tony Barragan said. “We care about the patients getting the relief that they need.”
Story by Genevieve Wilson