SARCOXIE, Mo. — A Southwest Missouri family who fought for the legalization of medical marijuana sued the state on Friday, one day after learning they had not received a cultivation license.
Paul Callicoat, a retired cardiologist, and his family are suing the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, challenging the state's decision to award only 60 licenses and also the scoring mechanism used to determine which applicants got licenses.
Specifically, they allege that the cap on the number of cultivation licenses is arbitrary and "artificially limits patient access and does not promote patient safety," thereby violating the Missouri Constitution.
They also argue that the cap violates the right-to-farm amendment to the Missouri Constitution, passed by voters in 2014.
The lawsuit further claims that DHSS went beyond its authority by setting up a scoring system that awarded "bonus" points to applications located in an "economically distressed area," identified by specific zip codes, and requiring information that the lawsuit alleges is out of date.
The state promulgated that list of "favored" zip codes only after initial applications were filed and after the applicants, including the Callicoats, had paid a nonrefundable $10,000 application fee for the cultivation license to the department.
The lawsuit argues, "Nowhere in this constitutional criteria is an allowance for the Department to utilize any geographical considerations or the vague and ambiguous term of 'economic distress' as a basis to enhance the score of otherwise below-average applications for cultivation facilities.'"
Without adding the bonuses, Sarcoxie's score would have qualified it for a license, the lawsuit argues.
Callicoat, along with his wife, Wendy, and his son, Jonathon, have plans for the former Sarcoxie Nursery and have begun work to convert it into a cultivation site.
“Our family, along with tens of thousands of advocates from across Missouri, fought hard to legalize medical marijuana to bring healing to patients as well as much-need economic opportunities to our local communities and to our state,” Callicoat said in a statement that was issued late Friday. “These large corporations that now have been awarded the lion’s share of the cultivation licenses were not involved in the effort either with time or money. It is wrong, and it is not what Missourians intended when they voted to legalize medical marijuana.”
The lawsuit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, includes a motion for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction.
The Callicoats argue that they have have deep roots in Southwest Missouri and have "assembled a highly skilled Missouri-led team with extensive experience in the cannabis space, demonstrating financial viability, medical knowledge, patient care and community benefits."
Callicoat, who was a public advocate for Amendment 2, which passed in November 2018, previously told the Globe that he has seen too many patients become addicted to opioids and others suffer needlessly from terminal and chronic illnesses when medical marijuana could have been a treatment option. Wendy is a former health care administrator and also served as an Amendment 2 volunteer coordinator. Jonathon is a botanist.
In the statement issued Friday, Callicoat also said, “We have received overwhelming support and encouragement from advocates and patients from across Missouri. We remain committed to ensuring patients have the access to high-quality, safe and effective medical marijuana that they need and deserve.”
Callicoat and his family have invested in a 70-acre property in Sarcoxie for cultivation and manufacturing purposes and previously told the Globe it would be a state-of-the-art operation. The nursery, at 1510 Joplin St., previously grew peonies and ornamental trees before falling vacant for several years prior to its purchase by the Callicoat family.
Callicoat also told the Globe his operation, if approved, would inject more than $2 million into the local economy.
The family planned to turn the Sarcoxie Nursery into a vertically integrated medical marijuana business with on-site cultivation as well as a dispensary at another location. They have applied for a medical marijuana manufacturing license for Sarcoxie Nursery Infusions LLC at the nursery and a dispensary license for Joplin, Monett and two in Kansas City.
Manufacturing licenses will begin to be issued by the state on Jan. 10; dispensary licenses will be issued on Jan. 24.
Two other cultivation licenses were approved for the Joplin area: Holistic Missouri LLC, 19130 Missouri Highway 37 in Cassville; and Harvest of Missouri LLC, 12785 E. 32nd St. in Joplin.
Attempts to get a comment from the state on Saturday about the lawsuit were unsuccessful.
Lyndall Fraker, director of the state’s Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation program, said in a statement Thursday when the cultivation licenses were announced, “Throughout this entire process, it has been important to us to be fair and transparent as we implement all pieces of this program. This is why we chose to employ a ‘blind’ application scorer who had no access to applicants’ identifying information.”
Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana in Missouri, received 1,583,227 “yes” votes in November 2018, or nearly 66%, compared with 830,631 “no” votes, or 34%. Revenue generated from the 4% sales tax required by the amendment is to be dedicated to veterans’ services in the state.