To grow the pot indoors or outdoors?

It’s one of the questions Mississippi health leaders are contemplating as the medical marijuana program continues to advance toward launch, and one that will affect anyone who might choose to become a licensed grower of the product.

In a recent session of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said the department is studying what other states have done and has found some distinct pros and cons. Many states that have medical marijuana programs use indoor or hybrid growing, he said.

“We have had a limited amount of feedback externally from farmers who maybe do want to grow it outdoors,” said Dobbs.

Potential growers will need to take a hard look at the economics.

“I am concerned that the enthusiasm for getting into the business maybe sometimes may expose people to financial risks that are hard to plan for, because this can be a pretty capital intensive business,” he said.

Indoor growing comes with significant overhead costs for energy and lighting, but climate control gives the advantage of making additional growing cycles possible by producing through the colder months. Dobbs said the indoor environment also tends to produce more consistent quality.

Outdoor growing is subject to uncontrolled environmental factors, a limited growing season and security concerns.

“An indoor environment that has strict security protocols is going to be a lot simpler to maintain than outdoor, where you may have fencing and concerns about people violating the integrity of the property for obvious reasons,” said Dobbs.

At the National Center for Natural Products Research on the campus of the University of Mississippi, where marijuana is grown for research purposes, Director Larry Walker said the intense security includes a double fence around the growing area.

“It’s monitored by cameras by the DEA,” he said. “When we’re actively growing, there are security guards there 24/7. It would probably be not very cost effective to have a secured operation the size of ours. It really gets to a lot of expense.”

Dobbs said some of the states that have medical marijuana programs have only authorized indoor growing and have seen many modest-sized growing operations emerge.

“An issue that is probably driver for most all of these guys who might be in business,” said Walker, “is going to be their growing cycles. Basically, if you do it outdoors, you’ve got one grow cycle a year. If you do it indoors, you can do three, probably, depending on how you operate. Most people are going to want a smaller footprint, less security or easier security to control, and the ability to cycle three growth cycles a year rather than be limited to one.”

The decision ultimately rests with the Mississippi State Board of Health.

Staff Writer

Jebb Johnston is a 1991 Alcorn Central High School graduate and a 1995 Ole Miss journalism graduate. His primary beats are city and county government.

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