Missouri Launches Medical Marijuana Market With Hiccups

The industry is expected to grow into a $480-million-per-year business

Downtown St.Louis, Missouri on the Mississippi River at sunset Source: Shutterstock

Medical marijuana is available in Missouri for the very first time. The industry is expected to grow into a $480-million-per-year business, but it looks like it’ll take a while to get off the ground. Although medical cannabis was legalized in Missouri in 2018, it’s taken until October 2020 to ready the commercialization of the product. That was supposed to be ready by Spring of this year, but coronavirus caused a bit of a delay.

The rush to get medical marijuana cards has outpaced the speed at which dispensaries have been able to get product on their shelves. Today, more than 66,000 Missourians have been approved for medical marijuana cards. Over 17,000 of them had their cards almost a full year before marijuana hit the shelves in Missouri.  

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Slow Beginnings

Right now, there’s only one licensed cultivator open and providing cannabis to dispensaries in Missouri, though 60 in total are licensed. More than 100 others are working to get their paperwork done.

A dispensary called N’Bliss Cannabis sold the very first medical marijuana in the state on October 20th.

EKG Labs is the first company to provide medical marijuana for Missourians, testing cannabis for BeLeaf Medical. It passed its final commencement inspection on September 26th, less than a month before dispensaries opened their doors. Now, it tests levels of THC, checks for psychoactive compounds in the product, and makes sure the quality is up to par, meaning no mold or mildew has affected the plant.

The analytical laboratory says it fast-tracks product development for other companies, explaining, “We excel at providing analytical and regulatory services which enable our clients to fulfill complex regulatory requirements and bring their product to market faster.” That could be why EKG was the only company able to provide marijuana on the day marijuana sales first started in Missouri.

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“We appreciate how hard these businesses have worked to become operational. These facilities have made it through a demanding review, and we look forward to their success in providing safe access to medical marijuana in Missouri,” said Lyndall Fraker, the Director of the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation in a statement.

Few Options and High Prices

That’s leading to another problem with marijuana: price. Normally, medical marijuana is significantly cheaper than recreational, because it isn’t taxed in the same manner. In Missouri, however, capacity issues are driving up the prices, so that medical dispensaries in Missouri sell flower for about the same cost as recreational dispensaries in Illinois.

Those issues with cultivation also mean there aren’t many options for variety or quality tiers. The ideal would be for customers to have a wide range of things to pick from, including the desired effect and pricing ranges to fit their specific budgets.

People involved in the medical marijuana markets in Missouri have to jump through fairly major hoops, compared to companies in the same industry in other states. It requires more safety measures, like testing and tracking.

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Dr. Randall Williams, the Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, views that program as thorough, but still efficient.

“Much has been said in recent months of how rigorous our compliance processes are, and Missourians should be assured that this industry will be well-regulated, just as Article XIV and Missouri voters envisioned.”

History of Cannabis in Missouri

Missouri has a tough history with marijuana, so legalizing it for medicinal use is a massive step forward in the state. In the early 1900s, the state outlawed cannabis in every form. The punishments were extremely harsh; if you were caught for possession twice, you could face life in jail, and if you sold to a minor you could be put up for the death penalty. In 1993, for instance, a man was given life without parole for a charge of marijuana possession with intent to distribute. That was during the tough-on-crime, “three strikes” era, and because he already had two unrelated felony convictions, a judge decided it was time he was taken out of society.  

Feelings toward the drug shifted over time. Missourians have been pushing for legislation to legalize cannabis for medical use since 1994, though it took 20 years before that effort ever saw success.

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In 2014, the Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill allowed patients experiencing chronic or severe seizures to legally use CBD oil. That same bill also revised the state’s criminal codes to soften penalties for possession of the drug.

The 2018 Ballot Initiatives

In 2018, Amendment 2 allowed patients registered under the state’s medical-marijuana program to purchase up to 4 ounces of marijuana per month, which must come from dispensaries. Patients can grow up to six of their own marijuana plants. There’s no limit on how much THC the flower can contain, but the law didn’t address concentrates or how those would be regulated.

Doctors in Missouri can recommend cannabis for conditions they deem chronic, terminal, or debilitating, or any other circumstance where they feel the patient could benefit from the use of marijuana. That includes psychiatric disorders. Anyone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, intractable migraines, multiple sclerosis, or PTSD is eligible for a medical marijuana card as well.

Missourians voted for three different medical marijuana plans in 2018. Amendment 3 would have taxed marijuana sales at 15% and used the revenue to develop a Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute. Proposition C , the Medical Marijuana and Veterans Healthcare Services, Education, Drug Treatment, and Public Safety Initiative, hoped to set taxes at 2% and spread the money out over the causes listed in the Proposition’s title.  

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For Missouri voters, 15% was too much, and 2% was too little. The state opted for a middle ground.

Amendment 2, which passed, was also called the Medical Marijuana and Veteran Healthcare Services Initiative. It set sales tax of marijuana at 4% and specified that the money raised would be used for veterans’ healthcare services.

There was a push to get recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot in Missouri, but the coordinators of that effort were thwarted by the coronavirus. The Missouri branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, would have needed 170,000 valid signatures by early May. Since the normal ways of acquiring those signatures were put in flux, recreational cannabis is going to have to wait until 2022 at the earliest. 

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