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No (license) cap: Sally Kent Peebles on the rise of cannabis in Mississippi

By
Jay Rosenthal
August 15, 2022

On Episode 4 of This Week in Cannabis Retail, we caught up with Sally Kent Peebles, Attorney at Vicente Sederberg LLP, a cannabis law firm. Vicente Sederberg has been at the forefront of cannabis law since 2010, shaping policy and advancing the cannabis and hemp industries in a responsible and dynamic manner.

Top highlights and takeaways

On the state of cannabis in Mississippi

"They regulated in the most reasonable structure that I've seen in the South. Instead of having a competitive license program where they limit licenses, they've decided to have an open structure where you just have a clean background and a location and you can apply for a license. No cap."

"It also makes the dispensary application process a little more competitive. Even though they're capped, space is very limited. In Mississippi, cannabis dispensaries can't be within 1,000 feet of a church—and there are 10,000 churches in the state."

On what's next in Florida

"The state has indicated they're going to issue another 22 to 26 new licenses. And when that happens is the big question. Every Friday I think something is going to happen. But what we need to see is some rules issued along with the application, and then we'll probably see an application submission date around, you know, early next year. "

Full transcript

Jay Rosenthal [00:00:09] Sally, thank you so much for making time. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:00:13] Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:00:15] I'm excited that you could be here because we're also going to see you next week in Jackson, Mississippi, for an event that we are doing together, Dutchie and Cure8 and 3MA in Mississippi and Vicente Sederberg. Before we even get into what's happening in Mississippi and some other southern states, tell us a little bit about Vicente Sederberg before we get going. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:00:35] Absolutely. So Vicente Sederberg, we are a national cannabis law firm. We one hundred percent focus on cannabis clients as well as clients that are interested in emerging therapies, psilocybin, and things like that. We are a regular law firm with a corporate department and a real estate department, but we're very unique that we also have an in-house economist that focuses on market data and putting together pro-formas, which is very useful when you're raising money, deciding what part of the cannabis industry you want to be in. And we also have a licensing department that focuses on competitive application processes throughout the United States. You know, that happens when a state decides to cap licenses at the state level. You know, they'll say, 'we only have five licenses'. Well, we'll help you compete for one of those. And then we also are in states that have noncompetitive application processes like Mississippi. And I was in the Denver office for about four and a half years, and then I moved to Florida to open up our southeast office in Jacksonville, Florida. And I've been with the firm for eight years, and it's a dream job. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:01:39] It's pretty good if you could be a lawyer and work in cannabis and in your case being Florida, that's a that's a pretty good win. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:01:46] It really is. I was an oil and gas attorney before this and I was the least popular person at every party. And now that I'm a cannabis attorney, I'm the most interesting attorney at the party. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:01:57] You're like, it's all law.

Sally Kent Peebles [00:02:01] All the same. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:02:02] It's all the same. It's different clients. But in this case, it's actually not the same. And that's actually one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. I don't know when you got in the cannabis industry, but you never thought you'd be talking about what's happening in Mississippi on the cannabis front. I went to school in the South. It was not—I mean, obviously we used cannabis in university—but I don't think it was ever on the radar when I was school in Georgia. Talk about what's happening in Mississippi, because we're also going to be there next week, next Thursday. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:02:31] So you are completely correct. Especially when I was sitting in the mothership of Vicente Sederberg in Denver, I mean, we would sit around and talk about when is the South going to pull it together, you know? And so it was so refreshing when Mississippi, of all states, you know—I think we would have ranked them as one of the last to actually regulate—they didn't just regulate. They regulated in the most reasonable structure that I've seen in the South. Instead of having a competitive license program where they limit licenses, they've decided to have an open structure where you just have a clean background and a location and you can apply for a license. No cap. There's also the ability for the local jurisdiction to ban, and there's very large setbacks. So because of that, it makes the dispensary application process a little more competitive. You know, even though it's not competitive because they're capped, it is competitive because space is limited. You know, I think we'll see that get better over time when the local jurisdictions notice, hey, you know, these other cities around here, they're making some good tax money there. The sky hasn't fallen. Maybe we'll lift that ban. So more and more opportunity will come available at that time. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:03:47] Isn't it interesting—and this is sort of bigger picture, maybe more philosophical—that every jurisdiction that comes out to the jurisdictions that I've gone to, you're talking about coming from Colorado, like take some bits that they want to keep and some change. And in Mississippi's case, it's sort of circumference around a dispensary. I don't know if anybody's got it correct all the time, but everybody's trying to get their version of it correct. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:04:11] I know it's really hard. I think as soon as we stop seeing cannabis as something that needs to be treated in a special way, that problem, you know, will be eradicated, right. You know, having a setback, for example, in Mississippi, you have to be a thousand feet from a church as well as schools. But the church is a little more interesting because, first of all, what's the rationale there? Does it really... there's not really a correlation. But second of all, there's almost 10,000 churches in the state of Mississippi. So goes back to my original point of why these locations are a little scarce for dispensaries, because there's just a lot of churches. You have to avoid that. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:04:50] And I would imagine also—and we ran into this here in Ontario even because there were some setbacks from some uses, like a school, for example. But schools can be very nimble. And during COVID schools took up more space because they were like, oh, we need more space. We're going to take over a unit in a strip mall temporarily, but call it a school. And then there were all these jurisdictions that can no longer actually open cannabis, retail or dispensaries because something encroached on their circumference.

Sally Kent Peebles [00:05:19] Absolutely. And we're seeing, you know, in all states because of the pandemic, a lot of, you know, "temporarily closed". So the question the question becomes, okay, does that affect the set back? Does that even count? So I spent a lot of time on the phone with Departments of Education in these states, say, you know what? Is this still license active? It's been it's been a little tricky. The pandemic definitely made some some us think a little bit differently about things. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:05:44] Sally, I want to ask you—so we're talking about Mississippi, obviously, and we'll be doing a much deeper dive next Thursday at Fertile Grounds in Jackson, Mississippi. See, I got the plug in. But you're also based in Florida, obviously, and there's been news over the past week about Florida and what the future holds as it relates to cannabis. Obviously, there is a medical market now. What's on the horizon there? Because I think that's one of the biggest and juiciest markets that people are sort of waiting for. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:06:11] I love to hear you say that, because that's absolutely my passion in addition to Mississippi, of course. But I'm born and raised in north Florida. I went to Florida State University Law School. And, you know, this is my home. And you can imagine sitting in my seat in Colorado for all those years, it was a constant kind of just people, oh, what's going on in Florida? It's like it's just a train wreck, you know? So the good news about Florida, you know, a little bit of history... in 2015, they had an application process. They issued five licenses. Well, everyone who lost in that competition sued the state, which is what we see in these competitive merit states. And another 17 licenses were issued via settlement agreements with the state because of this lawsuit. So the current picture is 22 MMTCs. They're fully vertical. They're the most valuable licenses in the world. They are not just required of vertical integration, meaning one company has to control seed-to-sale—they also have an unlimited ability to open as many dispensaries as they want, as many cultivations as they want. They can have a thousand dispensaries if they have the money to open that. So it's a very coveted licenses. So all eyes have been on the state of Florida. When are they going to issue more licenses? In 2018, they were going announce, 'we're going to issue ten more.' Everyone is excited. They got teams together. They raise money. Then more lawsuits. Florigrown sued the state, deemed the statute unconstitutional. They attacked the vertical integration. They attacked the cap. Lower courts actually agreed, it went all the way to the Supreme Court and everyone thought that they were going to break up this, for lack of a better term, a monopoly. That has some negative connotations. But these larger licenses, people really thought that would happen. But the Supreme Court last year said, nope, Florigrown is wrong. Status quo remains again. Everyone's like, okay, what's that mean? Does that 2018 application process move forward? And the answer, I believe, is yes. The state has indicated they're going to issue another 22 to 26 new licenses. And when that happens is the big question. Every Friday, I think something is going to happen. But what we need to see is some rules issued along with the application, and then we'll probably see an application submission date around, you know, early next year. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:08:55] It's a lot. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:08:57] Yeah. You know, I'm a little wordy, but I think it's important to understand, like, why this has been so important and why these have been so valuable is because it has the delay has really, really frustrated a lot of groups. So you can imagine if you were applying back in 2018, you signed leases on a lot of these buildings. You have been some people have actually been paying on them for four years, waiting for an application process. So the state and the citizens here are very, very relieved that we're going to move forward with this. More patients will be served. You know, we have over 750,000 patients in the state of Florida, one of the biggest medical markets in the country. And that, of course, brings us to what just happened earlier this week, a constitutional amendment that is going to be backed by MMTC, the largest in MTC. Truly gave $5 million towards it. So we might see something on the ballot in November 2024. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:09:53] Yeah. So I think all eyes. We're going to keep talking to you, Sally, every maybe every Friday, maybe every Friday to get the update about something in Florida. And I'm going to be in Florida tomorrow for an opening of Cookies in Miami so I won't see you, but hopefully, especially in the dead of winter in Toronto, I'll be down in Florida to talk to you about what's happening down there. Maybe every Friday we'll just come every weekend we'll do a conversation. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:10:16] Yeah. Just give me a shout. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:10:17] Well, Sally, thank you so much for making time. We'll see you in Mississippi next Thursday. We'll connect with you again soon. And thank you for your partnership with Vincent Sederberg as we get ready for the event on the 18th. 

Sally Kent Peebles [00:10:29] Thanks so much. I look forward to seeing you.

Opening a cannabis dispensary in Mississippi?

Join our upcoming in-person networking event, How to Build Your Cannabis Business in Mississippi, on Thursday, August 18th at 5:00pm CST. Dutchie, Vicente Sederberg LLP, the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association (3MA), and the go-to IT partner for the cannabis industry, Cure8, will be hosting a mixer centered around an overview of the Mississippi cannabis market and business opportunities.

About the author
Jay Rosenthal
Lead Content Producer @ Dutchie