Short on staff, the team within the Mississippi Department of Health that is tasked with overseeing the state’s medical cannabis program doesn’t have enough hands to issue disciplinary actions against those currently violating state law.

During the ramp-up period to a commercial medical cannabis program rollout—with a sales launch expected before the end of 2022—Mississippi only has three staffers and zero investigators in its Health Department who are currently committed to the cannabis program’s oversight, Mississippi Today reported.

But questions arose about the department’s regulatory actions during the state’s Board of Health’s public meeting Oct. 12, when small-scale cultivators commented on Mockingbird Cannabis LLC’s disregard of state regulations, according to the news outlet. Specifically, Mockingbird allegedly used plastic- and cloth-covered greenhouse structures to begin cultivating—a practice that is cheaper and faster than constructing an indoor facility, which is required under state law.

According to the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, which Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed in February, a cannabis cultivation facility is defined as a business entity that “acquires, grows, cultivates and harvests medical cannabis in an indoor, enclosed, locked and secure area.”

Before the act was passed by the state Legislature, an amendment proposed by Democratic Sen. Barbara Blackmon aimed to allow for outdoor cultivation and harvesting, but bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Blackwell asked his Republican colleagues to vote against the amendment because of what he said would be additional costs to supervise those operations. The amendment failed.

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But now Mockingbird, one of the state’s largest cultivation licensees, is allegedly violating that rule without major consequences and, in turn, has gained a leg up on its competition ahead of the state program being fully implemented with commercial sales. Instead of throwing the book at Mockingbird via fines or more punitive sanctions, the understaffed cannabis regulators in Mississippi’s Health Department are issuing “corrective actions” and allowing licensees who violate state regulations time to fix their infractions, Mississippi Today reported. 

During this week’s Health Board meeting, member Jim Perry said he was in favor of more stern consequences for those who violate the law.

“If we send signals you are going to be economically rewarded by trying to jump over the line, that will provide incentive for others to do the same,” he said.