A Cole County judge has denied a request by Sarcoxie Nursery owner Paul Callicoat for a temporary restraining order against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, according to court records.
Callicoat, a retired cardiologist, and his family applied for a medical marijuana cultivation license for the former Sarcoxie Nursery, but their application was one of hundreds officially denied by the department. Callicoat, his wife Wendy and son Jonathon had already begun work to convert the 70-acre property in Sarcoxie into a cultivation site.
A day after their application was denied, the family filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s scoring system used to grade the applications, as well as the state’s decision to award only 60 cultivation licenses. In the lawsuit, the Callicoats argue the cap violates the right-to-farm amendment to the Missouri Constitution, passed by voters in 2014. It also included a motion for a temporary restraining order.
The latter was denied Thursday by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon E. Beetem, who wrote in his order that Sarcoxie Nursery failed to prove any irreparable injury, which is required when requesting a temporary restraining order. Cornell Law School defines "irreparable injury" as harm that cannot be fixed or reversed through measurable monetary compensation.
“The court notes that while a constitutional violation can serve as irreparable injury, a clear violation has not been established at this point in the litigation which might warrant a (temporary restraining order),” the judge wrote.
The motion requesting the temporary restraining order was filed to give the Joint Committee on Rules, a branch of the state Legislature that reviews all rule-making, an opportunity to review the emergency orders put in place by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
“Temporary restraining orders are a very special remedy and rarely granted,” said Joseph Bednar, one of the attorneys representing the Callicoats. “Quite frankly, we knew this would be a challenge to get. But on this particular case, because they already awarded the licenses, I think there was a concern on the judge’s part not to do anything that would impede that process, as far as people who have licenses who will attempt to go to the market eventually.”
The Callicoats have already invested about $3 million on the Sarcoxie Nursery and planned to operate the facility with environmentally friendly equipment. All cultivation facility applicants also had to pay a $10,000 nonrefundable license fee, the highest for any of the facility licenses.
Bednar said the Callicoats believe that because they won’t be able to recover those associated costs, this constitutes irreparable damage.
Far from over
Despite rejecting the motion for a temporary restraining order, the judge said the lawsuit’s allegations that impeding “access” to medical marijuana and violating the right-to-farm amendment are worthy of further review by the court.
Bednar said that outlook was promising as the Callicoats move forward with litigation.
"I thought that was a very positive action by the court, so I look forward to getting this resolved," he said. "That’s huge because one of the options the judge had there was to say, 'There’s no likelihood of success here,'" he added. “He didn’t say that. This gives us more than a glimmer of hope.”
The state's attorney, Ross Kaplan, said during the hearing earlier this week that the approval of licenses last week followed the law’s minimum requirement to issue 60 licenses. He said the regulations of the medical marijuana industry are meant to protect the public, not licensees.
The Department of Health and Senior Services did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
As part of the motion, the judge returned the case back to Cole County Division III Judge Pat Joyce, to whom it was originally assigned. The next court date is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.