With a six-year career in law enforcement, former police officer Jason Cook knows firsthand about the dangers posed by some recreational drugs.
It’s one of the main reasons he opened Southern Re-Leaf, a new store at 3 Preston Street in Sumrall that specializes in CBD and hemp products, which have been shown to relieve health issues such as pain, stress, anxiety and drug withdrawals.
“I worked as a DUI officer, I worked a little bit in narcotics, I was a DARE officer for the school district, and I kind of decided I wanted to get out and do something different,” said Cook, who is originally from Oregon but now makes his home in Sumrall. “Unfortunately, one of my really good friends, he overdosed in Oregon, so I went there for the funeral.
“Being how opioids are now, it’s killing people left and right. So when I went to Oregon, I met up with another one of my friends, and he showed me the CBD flower. He explained (the benefits) to me, and I said, ‘Man, we need to get this out there,’ so that’s kind of how the idea came about for opening the store.”
The store carries a wide variety of natural CBD and hemp items – which do not have the same psychoactivity as THC – from typical tinctures to pet products and protein powders for post-work-out use. Customers can also find items from Lifted Lotus, a Portland, Oregon-based company that manufactures CBD pain salves, lip balms, bath soaks and sleep tinctures like “Sweet Dreams.”
One of the more popular items in the store are the pre-rolls made by Lifted Lotus, which are pre-rolled CBD flower rolls ready to smoke. Cook also sells various strains of raw hemp, which can be purchased by the gram or the eighth. Every customer who buys flower gets a business card, a disclaimer card describing the product, and the results of lab tests that were performed on each particular strain of flower purchased.
“The flower is one of those things that is almost instant relief, which is great,” Cook said. “We can sit here and light one up, and within probably three or four puffs, you’re going to start feeling very relaxed – not high, just very relaxed and comfortable.”
Also available at Southern Re-Leaf are products such as DAB pens, vape wax, hand-blown glass pipes and face masks.
Cook described opening a CBD store in a small town like Sumrall as a “double-edged sword.” While being in a small town has its benefits – such as Cook’s store being the only one of its kind in town, with cheaper rent than a larger city like Hattiesburg – it can also invite a little pushback at first.
“When you come into a small community like this, a lot of eyes are on you,” Cook said. “The first day I opened, people were flooding calls into City Hall saying that there was a dispensary in town selling marijuana.
“So I had to go down and explain to them my background, where I came from, and that I didn’t leave six years of perfect service in law enforcement to open a storefront to sell marijuana. “And I’ve noticed that I’m getting a lot of people from Hattiesburg, from Bassfield, from Prentiss, people from all over who are coming here. And what Sumrall is getting from that, is when people leave here, they’re stopping to get gas and a bite to eat, so I’m actually bringing business from other towns into Sumrall.”
With Cook believing that education is key to hemp and CBD, he brought flyers and brochures to Sumrall’s recent 4th of July celebration and set up an information booth.
“I left all of the flower, all of the hand-blown glass and everything – everything for smoking – I left all of that in the shop,” he said. “I brought the salves, the creams, the bath bombs and things like that, to show people who we are and what we’re out here doing.”
But so far, Cook has received plenty of positive feedback from his customers – who range from 18-year-olds to individuals in their 70s – who have tried the various products. One customer in particular, who is the mother of a 9-year-old girl with epilepsy, told Cook her daughter benefited immensely from CBD oil.
“She came back in a week after (she bought some) to thank me,” Cook said. “She said her daughter had been seizure-free for a week already, and she hasn’t been like that since she’s been born.
“So it’s definitely something different, but the thing is, somebody has to be the one to break the yolk. I’m trying to do this in a way that doesn’t step on anybody’s toes, and I don’t push it down anyone’s throat.”