JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Stakeholders made one thing clear to state officials: they want medicinal cannabis in Missouri to be about Missouri.
In a standing-room-only public hearing, more than 350 people turned out to convey their thoughts and expertise as the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services works to promulgate rules.
The Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation, lead Lyndall Fraker, are currently working a draft set of regulations for the new voter-approved industry in Missouri.
The department is currently working on the rules and Fraker said the rules should be out soon — though he did not state a specific date. The rules are required to be in place by June 4, 2019, per the voter-approved constitutional amendment.
The public forum was a way for the state agency to gather public input on the rule-making process.
“We want to make sure that we get this program up and running and we do it right,” said Fraker.
“The best way to get to a good outcome is to listen to your patient — in this case, to listen to you,” said DHSS Director Randall Williams. “We think that if we listen carefully, we will come up with a program that serves the needs of the people of Missouri.”
Each individual at the forum had up to five minutes to share their concerns, recommendations, and expertise on the subject. Folks were invited to provide written testimony and officials said they would be happy to receive emails with additional comments.
Patients, advocates, and those looking to be involved in the medical cannabis industry were adamant throughout nearly three hours of testimony that the program is focused on Missouri. The crowd was most united on the idea the Missouri residents, both patients and growers, be taken under consideration first.
“It should be cannabis by Missourians for Missourians,” said Matthew Overcast with Show-Me Natural Gardens.
Another person expressed concern over residency requirements and ownership requirements.
With the way the law is written, for a company to meet the requirements they need a individual who has lived in Missouri for one year to be a majority shareholder, according to testimony. Kevin Marshall said that that resident will not be the majority revenue beneficiary, in fact, he has seen advertisements on Linkedin for that very arrangement.
“We want to make sure that this benefits our communities and our citizens,” said Marshall, a Kansas City resident.
“Big business should be the last considered,” said a Kansas City attorney. Jonathon Nicol said that scoring preference should be given to a capable Missouri resident instead of someone coming from out-of-state that has experience.
On the issue of focussing in Missourians, many expressed concerns that there is equal access to all residents who require it. The idea was brought up that medical marijuana cards have a denotation for veterans or those not financially affluent so that dispensaries who wish could offer them discounted rates.
Veterans as whole being able to access medical cannabis was a concern several people shared at the forum. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions and the Missouri Veterans Commission said that use in veterans homes will be prohibited so that they stay in federal compliance.
One person asked if there would be an alternative route available for veterans to get medical marijuana cards. Another asked if veterans could go to an outside doctor to get the prescription without having to pay out-of-pocket.
Another issue brought up was a persons’ right to own a gun. Drew Hicks testified that they shouldn’t give up their right to purchase a gun because they use a legal medicine.
“I can tell you right now, no one is going to hand over their gun willingly,” said Hicks. “Telling me I can’t go purchase a new firearm is kinda ludicrous.”
Protections of individuals involved in the medical marijuana, from patients to business owners to labors, was a concern.
One mother said she wants to get involved, but, with three small children, she is terrified.
“We need protection that won’t be used against us in a family court. I don’t want to lose my right to be a mother if I get involved,” said Tara from Washington. “I just want to make sure you don’t leave out the mothers, fathers, and caregivers.”
Even though the forum was not a question and answer set up, Fraker did take the time at the two and a half hour mark to clarify a few issues that had be brought up.
The first being that medical marijuana was approved through a constitutional amendment and, as such, the state cannot make any alterations to the language or requirements set forth in the constitutional amendment.
The other point he clarified was the prefiled application fees. Fraker said that prefiling a nonrefundable fee will not give the applicant an advantage or edge in the process. Though those fees are being used to actually fund the program.
“This isn’t an easy task and we do want to make sure that Missourians are first, that the patients are actually first,” said Fraker. “That is what the voters decided and we want to honor that.”
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.