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A Budding Business

The veteran-owned and operated magnolia cannabis farm is north Mississippi’s first private, state-licensed marijuana growing facility.

Written by Sonia Thompson | Photographed by Paul Gandy

James Childress is on his farm, tending to his plants. Except his farm is inside a warehouse, and his plants smell of chocolate, lemon, honeysuckle, strawberry and even wedding cake.

Childress is the master grower at Magnolia Cannabis Farms. He obtained the first federal license to grow hemp in Mississippi in 2019. Now, Magnolia Farms is one of the first cultivators in the state to grow medical marijuana.

“I’ve been working on these strains for a while,” he said. “We’re kind of like craft beer. You can’t find these particular strains anywhere else on the planet right now.”

With the passage of Senate Bill 2095 in early 2022, also known as the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, it is now legal to purchase cannabis in Mississippi with a medical marijuana card (see “What’s Legal” below).

Magnolia Cannabis Farm is owned by Childress and his business partners Brent Harris and Mark Rotenberry. The idea came together almost as naturally as the plants they grow (everything is 100% organically grown and pesticide-free).

Rotenberry and Harris have worked together in property sales for many years and had a warehouse sitting empty on their lot. Childress’s son knew the structure would be perfect for a cannabis farm, and he alerted his dad to the available space. The two Childress men approached Rotenberry, and the rest was history.

“It just seemed like an interesting business opportunity,” Rotenberry said.

While it is a new venture for Harris and Rotenberry, Childress has past professional marijuana growing experience.

A U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Childress was injured in a repel line accident in 2001 that left him with a dislocated hip, broken pelvis and in a severe amount of pain. When he left the Army because of his injuries, a friend invited him to California to help him grow marijuana legally for a medical collective.

It not only gave him a job and valuable farming knowledge, it also made an impression on how he viewed pain management.

“We grew the medicine directly for the patients,” Childress said. “I saw so many people on the verge of death coming back, just from a plant. I saw people who couldn’t control their body and then they would just slowly come around their cars to just thank you for growing their medicine.”

That was more than two decades ago, before the opioid crisis really took hold in the United States. Now, the farmers can point to the statistics on the safety and efficacy of marijuana versus other prescription pain medications.

“I’ve been dealing with (pain) for about 20 years,” Childress said. “And before I worked here, I worked in a factory. So many people in Mississippi, their bodies are broken. They need some kind of relief. And opiates? You could die from that. But you could smoke this for years and stop tomorrow and have absolutely no side effects. No withdrawal, no sickness, nothing.”

Not to say that it’s a free-for-all just because it’s natural. Medical marijuana is highly regulated by the state.

Scan the QR code on a package of Magnolia Farms cannabis and you will be directed to information that can tell you everything about the product, from seed to plant. Each crop is lab tested to ensure all of Magnolia’s products meet the state’s high standards.

“Mississippi is the strictest of any state so far,” Childress said. “We can’t use any plant growth products or hormones. They test for any kind of contaminate. They even test it for COVID,” he added, laughing.

And when it comes to the sale and movement of any of their product, the regulations are even tighter.

“We have to hire a transport company with a lockbox in the vehicle,” Rotenberry said. “It comes down to turn-by-turn directions from leaving here to delivering to the dispensaries. There’s a timed departure and arrival. And everything has to be individually labeled and numbered.”

But despite dealing with government regulation and red tape and the learning curve that comes with understanding the new and changing laws, Childress and Rotenberry are pleased with their new venture.

Childress’ two sons, Riley Childress and Russell Smith, are Magnolia Cannabis Farms employees, too, and the operation feels more like a family than a business.

“My sons love it; they’re eager to learn,” James Childress said. “They work every day, seven days a week.”

Right now, Magnolia Cannabis Farms product can be found in dispensaries from Batesville to Tupelo and Hattiesburg to Hernando. They are hoping to get their inventory into Oxford and Ridgeland dispensaries soon. The only thing they can sell right now is flower (or bud), but they are in the process of applying for a license to make and sell edibles, too.

“We hope to keep growing, keep expanding,” Childress said. “I want to perfect the product, that’s my biggest thing. I want to keep working on that next great strain out there.”

What’s Legal: Who Qualifies for a Medical Marijuana Card in Mississippi?

  • You must be a Mississippi resident. There is no age requirement, however, patients under the age of 18 will need a parent or guardian to register as their caregiver.

  • You must have a qualifying medical condition. Those conditions are outlined as: cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, sickle cell anemia, Alzheimer’s, agitation of dementia, PTSD, autism, pain refractory to opioid management, diabetic/peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord disease, severe injury or a chronic medical condition that produces severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms or chronic pain.

  • If you have a qualifying condition with medical documentation (such as medical records, office visit summaries, or a letter from a doctor stating your diagnosis), then you’re ready to be certified.

  • If you have a qualifying condition but do not have medical documentation, then you can schedule an appointment with a doctor to be diagnosed.

  • The state charges a $25 nonrefundable application fee ($15 for Mississippi Medicaid participants) for a medical card.

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