(The Center Square) – Beset by more than 800 appeals from frustrated applicants, lawsuits, legislative probes into alleged misconduct and delays fostered by the COVID-19 pandemic, October marks the eagerly anticipated launch of Missouri’s medical marijuana industry.
How soon the 75,000 Missourians with state-issued patient permits will find medical marijuana products on shelves of nearly 200 licensed dispensaries statewide remains uncertain as more than 300 state businesses hustle to complete a billion dollar build-out of a new industry that could generate up to $500 million in taxable revenues.
On Sept. 26, EKG Labs of Maryland Heights, outside St. Louis, became the first of 10 lab operations given the green light by state inspectors to start screening marijuana produced by 60 state-licensed growers for pesticides, toxins, metals, moisture content and potency.
EKG Director of Operations Natalie Brown told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that testing could begin in this week. “We’re hopeful that there will be product on the shelves and dispensaries by early- to mid-October,” she said.
In November 2018, nearly 66 percent of Missouri voters approved Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana. The measure allows qualified patients to grow up to six cannabis plants and to purchase up to 4 ounces of cannabis a month from state-licensed dispensaries.
Under Amendment 2, cannabis can be prescribed by doctors for any "chronic, debilitating or other medical condition.” It costs $25 for patients/caregivers to apply for medical marijuana permit and $100 for a patient/caregiver cultivation license.
Missouri medical marijuana sales will be taxed at 4 percent by the state with proceeds earmarked for military veterans’ services.
Marijuana Business Daily projects Missouri’s medical marijuana market will generate $300 million in annual sales by 2022.
The Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association (MoCann Trade) predicts the industry will create 4,000 jobs and funnel $500 million annually into the state’s economy.
As of this week, at least five commercial growers and six dispensaries had passed inspections by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), which administers the program, and can technically start growing and selling pot legally.
DHSS has issued 60 licenses to grow marijuana, 86 to manufacture marijuana-infused products and 192 to open dispensaries, but most producers await inspections and, therefore, will have scant offerings until they harvest crops later this year and in 2021.
Several Kansas City-area cultivators say they are ready to put product on the shelves of 40 dispensaries this month. But most Missouri operators say supply and variety will be limited for the next few months
DHSS’s Tuesday update said 74,837 Missourians have state “patient” permits to legally use medical marijuana and 2,706 “caretaker” permits to administer medical marijuana have been issued. DHSS has also approved 18,494 “patient cultivator” and 1,655 “caretaker cultivator” licenses.
According to MoCannTrade, Missouri medical cannabis businesses are investing $1.37 billion in building 3.3 million square feet of operation space at 338 dispensaries, grow sites and testing labs across the state, creating 5,280 “direct” and 3,000 “indirect” jobs.
MoCannTrade, which represents more than 300 state businesses engaged in the industry, projects medical marijuana operators will also spend $1.27 billion in 2021 in continuing its Missouri build-out, creating 5,700 “direct” and 3,000 “indirect” jobs next year.
Only a fraction of applications to grow, manufacture and sell marijuana products were approved by the MHSS, which remains besieged by 800 administrative appeals and several lawsuits challenging its selection process.
In September, House Democrats accused DHSS of obstructing an oversight committee’s investigation into the selection process in a memo written by House Democratic Caucus counsel Casey Millburg.
Democrats contend Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s office influenced how industry applications were scored, claiming consultants hired to score applications had conflicts of interest.