Our View

A retired Southwest Missouri physician and his family are right to contest a decision by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services by filing a lawsuit to challenge its decision to award only 60 medical marijuana cultivation licenses.

Paul Callicoat, a retired cardiologist, was one of a group of people to visit the editorial board to advocate for the medical marijuana amendment to the Missouri Constitution. After the successful effort to bring medical marijuana to the state, Callicoat, his wife Wendy and son Jonathon, began work to convert a 70-acre property in Sarcoxie into a cultivation site.

The family had applied for a license to grow medical marijuana at the former Sarcoxie Nursery, but their application was one of hundreds officially denied by the department. The number approved seems arbitrary, and the criteria used in selection seem to serve bureaucratic goals not included in the original amendment to authorize medical marijuana growth, distribution, sales and use.

The state’s scoring system to grade the cultivation applications awards points to applicants located in an "economically distressed area," identified by ZIP code. That criteria doesn't serve the goal of the original amendment. The suit also alleges that the data used for the determination is out of date. Further, if the Department of Health and Senior Services is seeking to help cultivators in low-income areas, why did it require a nonrefundable fee of $10,000 simply to apply for the license? The added goal and the fee seem contradictory.

Why 60 cultivation licenses? How was that number determined? It seems low for a state our size, and the licenses don’t seem to have been awarded with an eye to equitable geographic distribution nor with an eye to proximity to population centers. One was awarded in Joplin, one in Cassville, but none in Springfield.

Further, the amendment was passed more than a year ago, and authorized medical marijuana users have been certified for months. Yet the state is only now authorizing growers for a crop that can take six months to be ready for harvest. It feels as if the state is slow-rolling the medical marijuana use authorized by the amendment.

The right-to-farm amendment added section 35 to Article I of the Missouri Constitution, reading: “That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.”

Though courts have blocked previous attempts to apply Missouri’s right-to-farm amendment to marijuana cultivation, the passage of the medical marijuana amendment should prompt courts to revisit that precedent. Marijuana is authorized for medical use in the state, and the amendment would therefore apply under the “health benefits” provision.

Though the Callicoats’ request for a temporary restraining order was denied by the court, there are a number of questions that should rightfully be addressed in this suit.

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