Tupelo • Like fellow medical marijuana distributors, Jason Truong will have to fight a decades-old stigma against cannabis use, not to mention the sale of cannabis.
But the 23-year-old is all set to do just that, as he and his business partner, Red Turner, plan to open the aptly named High Hopes Cannabis in January.
It is located at 1201 N. Gloster St., Suite E at Crye-Leike Plaza in Tupelo next to Mariner Finance and Funky Cones.
For Truong, the project is about the pursuit of a long-awaited dream.
“I’ve been going to school my whole life to be a doctor, and I still want to be a doctor,” he said. “I want to help people, and in so many ways, that’s what I do. And after I start this project, who’s going to say I can’t go back to medical school.”
But there is an additional challenge for Truong. A Tupelo High School graduate with honors in biochemistry from the University of Mississippi, Trung is the son of Vietnamese immigrants. While he has the support of his brothers and some other relatives, he did not tell his parents about dropping out of medical school.
“Well, I guess that’s when the news comes for them,” he said. “But in the end, I hope they come and see that this is a really good thing.”
However, he is pressing ahead with his bold plan to open a dispensary, which he describes as designed to be sleek and modern, like an Apple Store. Staff will wear medical scrubs, so there is no doubt that cannabis use is for prescribed use only.
High Hopes Cannabis is one of 11 dispensaries licensed to sell medical cannabis in Lee County, according to the most recent list from the Mississippi Department of Revenue — more than any other county in the state. Harrison County on the Gulf Coast ranks second with a score of 10.
In the rest of northeastern Mississippi, Lafayette County has four licensed dispensaries, Octebaha County has three, and Alcorn and Prentice counties have one each.
Ophthalmologist Joe Kea is another license holder in Tupelo. Like Trung, he also believes medicinal cannabis is beneficial.
That’s because he saw it in action. He and his friend, Jeff Webb, a lawyer in Carthage, business partners because of their experiences with the medicinal properties of marijuana.
“One of our best friends we knew in college died of pancreatic cancer seven or eight years ago, and we saw what he did to him,” Kia said. “At the time, they only had cannabis products for people with epilepsy. But his oncologist got him some THC, and it really extended his life.”
A few years later, Kea and Webb decided they would open a dispensary when medical cannabis legalization was passed. Those plans have now grown to five Green Magnolia dispensary locations across the state.
In Tupelo, Green Magnolia is located at 3437 Tupelo Commons Suite 101 next to Crossroads Rehabilitation Services.
It’s a good cause,” Kia said. “It’s very organized. I think a lot of people feel that when you have one of these establishments, there’s going to be bums with their forties on hand and smoking weed outside. But we have 30-40 cameras here, plus you can’t even get in without an ID. What you do and touch is highly regulated.”
The vast majority of Mississippi voters approved the sale of medical marijuana in November 2020. More than 816,107 Mississippians voted for some type of medical marijuana plan. This represented 68.5% of those who voted for or against medical marijuana.
But the state Supreme Court invalidated the results of that election six months later, ruling that the initiative was not properly on the ballot paper.
A legislative alternative, Initiative 65, was approved by Mississippi 766478, by a margin of 73.5%.
In February, Governor Tate Reeves signed an amended version of the law allowing him to use medical marijuana for people with debilitating conditions such as cancer, AIDS and sickle cell disease.
After Reeves signed the bill into law, Trung realized he had to have a bulletproof business plan—and attract investors—to open a dispensary. It’s time for the gist. The first to market reap the most rewards, after all.
Trung was finishing his second semester of medical school, and the door was open.
“I knew I had to move on because I wouldn’t be able to do it in the future,” he said. “If you don’t get in early, you’ll never get into the habit.”
The new law requires a $40,000 licensing fee. Dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from a church or school. A dispensary cannot be closer than 1,500 feet from another dispensary.
Patients can buy up to 3.5 grams of cannabis per day, up to six days a week. That’s about 3 ounces per month. The law imposes taxes on the production and sale of hemp, and stipulates that plants must be grown indoors under controlled conditions
Under regulations established by the administration, medical marijuana companies may have websites and logos to distinguish their business, but may not undertake any other marketing or advertising. They are allowed to have websites.
Trung takes advice from Frank, Turner’s father, who works as a business consultant for High Hopes. In the furniture industry for 40 years, he helps provide invaluable advice to his son and Trung.
“I am a stern voice board, giving advice and hopefully some wisdom,” he said. “I watch and enjoy it. If I saw a potential danger in the future, I would draw attention to it, but Jason often got it already.”
Frank Turner believes in the efficacy of medical marijuana, which is why he shares.
“We can make a difference on the medical side, but we’ll have an uphill battle to change the market’s perception that government started in the 1960s,” he said. “Patients and doctors need alternatives, and only now is the information on medical cannabis emerging.”
While High Hopes opens in January, Green Magnolia believes it could open by November.
“I think some growers and farmers will have flowers by November 1,” Kia said. “We have to find someone to sell to us. The state sets the price, and I think it’s going to be very high right away. But I think the market will regulate itself, and it will get better.”
The new law also requires dispensaries to purchase only from Mississippi farmers.
Kea thinks that’s a good thing.
“The tax money will be good for the state and certainly the patients will benefit,” he said. “It’s really good for people who are in pain.”
Kea acknowledges that medical marijuana use won’t be for everyone, but he also believes there are plenty of Mississippi residents who can help. This is the reason for his entry into the business.
Anything that helps relieve people’s pain is a positive result.
“If cannabis is one of those alternatives, and you don’t have to prescribe an opioid or a chemical that alters the brain or depression or anxiety, I think they deserve that avenue especially since the state regulates it,” he said. .