The implementation of the regulatory steps for medical marijuana in Missouri has been making strides over the past several months.
The state Department of Health and Senior Services, which is overseeing the medical marijuana industry, recently announced some licenses will be issued before the end of the year with more licenses to be issued early in 2020. Lyndall Fraker, director of the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation with the department, said in a recent Globe interview that officials are pleased with the pace of implementation so far.
“We just feel really good where we’re at," Fraker said. “Certainly the last big piece of the puzzle is getting these licenses issued.”
The application period has closed for cultivation, testing, manufacturing and dispensary licenses. Only applications for seed to sale and transportation certifications are now being accepted, according to the department's website. Seed to sale is the portion of the regulations that allows the department to track marijuana products.
“It would be similar to an inventory control or a point-of-sale system in a retail environment, so as the plants are started in the cultivation facilities, then a batch number would be assigned to those plants,” Fraker said. “That number follows that plant all of the way to the very end of the process. This is our way of monitoring the product and knowing what’s going on in the industry.”
Missouri voters adopted Amendment 2 in November 2018 by a 66% margin. It allows approved applicants to use, cultivate, manufacture and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes. New Approach Missouri drafted the amendment, and campaigned for its placement on the ballot and for its passage.
“It’s very important, the fact that it is a constitutional right,” said Dan Viets, an attorney and president of New Approach Missouri. “The constitution controls what cities can do and what individuals can do. Article XIV is fairly detailed. It’s 16 pages of fine print. What it does essentially is what 32 other states have done since 1996, and that is to provide legal access with a doctor’s approval to patients who need cannabis for medical purposes.”
Applications for a total of 10 medical marijuana testing laboratories were approved and licenses issued beginning last week. Testing labs will be responsible for verifying levels of THC in products for patients, as well as screening it for any foreign matter or dangerous bacteria.
“The commercial licenses will authorize cultivation on a larger scale, and it will also authorize testing, which is a very important aspect of Article XIV,” Viets said. “This will identify the potency and purity of the product."
This week, the Department of Health and Senior Services will issue licenses for transportation facilities, according to Fraker. On Thursday, cultivation operation licenses will begin being distributed.
“I think we had about 540 applicants for those (cultivation licenses), and we’re going to issue 60 licenses, so we certainly know that’s going to be one that’s being watched closely and highly anticipated,” Fraker said.
The state is expected to approve at least 60 commercial growers, 86 operations that manufacture marijuana-infused products, and 192 dispensary licenses.
There were at least 30 license applications filed in Jasper County for medical marijuana operations. Of those, seven were cultivator license applicants, five manufactured-product license applicants and 18 dispensary license applicants.
Under Department of Health and Senior Services guidelines, approved applicants may have up to 30,000 square feet of indoor for indoor growing and may grow 2,800 plants outdoors.
Licenses will be issued beginning Jan. 10 for infused-product manufacturing operations, Jan. 24 for dispensaries and Jan. 31 for seed to sale operations.
The Department of Health and Senior Services began accepting applications from qualified patients and caregivers June 28. Fraker said the state has now approved close to 25,000 patient cards after receiving more than 27,000.
“I think we’re seeing around 1,000 applications a week, so they’re still moving pretty fast,” he said. “We also have patient cultivation licenses and caregiver licenses that we’re issuing.”
Even though many individuals already have patient cards, it will still be several more months before products can be purchased from dispensaries. Marijuana plants have an average development period of 90 to 120 days, but the operations will have to be ready to roll, and that will not happen immediately, Fraker said.
“Many of these people haven’t even started working on their facilities because they didn’t know if they were going to get a license,” he said. “There will be some that will jump the gun and start it or already had a building, and they’ll be able to retrofit it fairly quickly, but still, we’re looking at probably early summer at the very earliest of having product available for the consumer.”
'Certainly the last big piece of the puzzle is getting these licenses issued.'
Director of the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation