What you should know about medical marijuana in Missouri: How to get a card, what are the qualifiers and more.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the location of MoCann Testing.
A few Missouri medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to open in October as key parts of the legal supply chain begin to receive state approval, state officials and people tied to the industry said Monday.
Testing and transportation were the missing pieces of the system that patients and the cannabis industry were waiting for. Since mid-June, a handful of cultivation and dispensary sites have been approved by state authorities.
In recent days, one testing lab and two transporters were approved, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed in a message sent to the News-Leader Monday morning. (Missouri’s health department oversees the state medical cannabis program, set up as part of Article 14 in the state constitution. That article, also known as Amendment 2, was approved by a two-to-one margin by voters in November 2018.)
A delegation of Missouri medical marijuana industry people visited MoCann Testing in the St. Louis suburbs shortly before state authorities approved it to operate in late Sept. 2020. (Photo: Courtesy Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association)
And dispensary sales?
“Could potentially happen this week,” said Lisa Cox, the health department’s chief spokesperson. She added, “It is up to the facilities at this point.”
And when will Springfield patients be able to buy legal marijuana?
“We are hoping very soon,” said John Lopez, co-owner of Old Route 66 Wellness, on Monday. His dispensary, located at I-44 and Glenstone Avenue in a building once used as a steakhouse, was approved to operate earlier in September. Three weeks ago, Lopez predicted that Old Route 66 would be the first dispensary in southwest Missouri to open, if not statewide.
Lopez said his firm was “working through the details now” to start selling cannabis to patients.
Testing lab ‘hopeful’ sampling starts this week
Natalie Brown, director of operations at the newly approved MoCann Testing facility, said that state approval went much more quickly than she and her fellow managers expected: They got a callback the very same day as their on-site “commencement” inspection.
State officials inspected their testing operation, a division of St. Louis-based pharmaceutical-medical device testing company EKG Labs, on Friday, and informed managers later that day that they were emailing final paperwork.
Now, MoCann Testing hopes to begin sampling cannabis from commercial cultivators as early as this week, Brown said.
“I’m hopeful the first sampling will be this week, and patients will find product in dispensaries early- to mid-October,” Brown told the News-Leader on Monday.
The testing component is significant in terms of public safety, Brown said. Testing lab staff will go out to cannabis cultivation centers to collect samples, a measure intended to prevent interference with samples. Then lab scientists run at least seven tests to check for contaminants such as mercury, arsenic, pesticides and mycotoxins (i.e., harmful substances generated by fungi like molds). Some of the tests cost upwards of $1,000, Brown said.
They’ll work with cultivators as soon as they can make arrangements. The procedure they’re planning is to test cultivator samples concurrently to process them as quickly as possible.
“A lot of people think that these test results — that there’s just one magical instrument that you can put a sample into, and get a bunch of different results,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of preparation and a lot of quality control that does go into the sample prep and analysis … But it’s important you understand what you’re actually consuming.”
Cox, with the state health department, said that over the weekend two of Missouri’s first large-scale cannabis cultivators, Archimedes and BeLeaf, had their transportation licenses approved by state authorities. As the News-Leader reported early this summer, St. Louis-based BeLeaf was Missouri’s first approved cultivation center.
Among 371 licenses, 14 are ready
Missouri has 371 licensed business entities making up the state medical marijuana system. Among those, roughly 85 percent are working their way toward opening up, according to the state health department. That means they passed a standards review they’re required to complete before asking for final inspections and approvals to operate. To date, a much smaller number of Missouri licensees — 14 — have final approval for operating, DHSS confirmed Monday.
On Saturday, before a legal sale at a dispensary, the Missouri health department published an infographic proclaiming Missouri’s implementation process quicker-than-average, among U.S. states that added medical cannabis laws in the past 15 years.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services published this chart Saturday, Sept. 26, prior to the sale of marijuana at a lawful dispensary. It claims that Missouri is somewhat quicker-than-average to implement a medical marijuana program, among states that added medical marijuana over the past 15 years. (Photo: Courtesy Missouri DHSS)
High prices? Federal prohibition is partly to blame
Cindy Northcutt, a Springfield-based cannabis attorney and industry consultant, weighed in on Missouri’s progress Monday.
She noted that just five of the 21 states cited in the health department’s infographic from the weekend moved faster than Missouri in launching a medical cannabis program, with roughly half of the states moving quicker than the 28-month average listed. (The fastest state? Oklahoma, which has very liberal cannabis laws, was ready in just a few months.)
And Northcutt acknowledged that early dispensary prices will be high.
“I anticipate that prices will be high at first, as they were in other states at the beginning of their programs,” Northcutt said. “As the market matures and more products are available, I believe competition will drive pricing, more than supply and demand.”
Patients should realize that the licensed cannabis businesses can’t escape high operating costs, Northcutt explained.
“Because cannabis is still federally illegal, dispensaries and other plant-touching businesses can’t deduct most business expenses, which is a killer come tax time,” Northcutt said.
The absence of tax deductions comes on top of the money legal marijuana businesses spend to comply with state regulations.
“This is one of the most highly-regulated industries in existence,” Northcutt said, “and the lack of national standards means that each state has to develop and implement their own programs.”
Reporter Gregory Holman has been following Missouri cannabis news since Oct. 2018. Email news tips to [email protected] and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing. Learn more by visiting News-Leader.com/subscribe.
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