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Opinion: Show-Me State shows how to do medical cannabis right

It’s been just a little more than one year since the first legal purchase by a Missouri medical cannabis patient, but make no mistake: from patient care to economic impact to job creation, the Show-Me State’s burgeoning program is delivering for patients and on the promise of a new industry.

The numbers alone are impressive: 

  • More than 300 facilities operating across the state  as cultivators, manufacturers, testing labs, transporters and retail dispensary outlets;
  • Nearly 165,000 patients and caregivers. That puts Missouri in the top 8, by enrollment, among the 36 states to have approved medical cannabis, ahead of such places as New York, New Jersey and even neighboring Illinois – which has more than twice the population;
  • 6,000-plus newly created jobs. 
Michael Bronstein

Beyond the data, the work of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation Director Lyndall Fraker and his team to oversee and monitor program rollout and compliance amid a nearly two-year-long global pandemic deserves particular praise.

Even under the most ideal of circumstances, the combination of implementing a new government regulatory structure while business owners attempt to stand up a brand-new industry from scratch can be time-consuming and burdensome. 

Of the 21 states that have implemented medical marijuana laws with a formal regulatory system, the national average for implementation is 29 months. 

In Missouri’s case, it took 23 months from voter approval in November 2018 of what is now Article XIV of the state Constitution to that first sale in October 2020. 

Only five of those other 20 states did so sooner – and none with the myriad other obstacles wrought by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Missouri’s commitment to statewide patient access is worth elaborating on. With a total of 385 licensed and certified medical cannabis facilities, including nearly 200 retail dispensaries, Missourians can safely and compliantly purchase medical marijuana in their own communities, not just in and near major population centers like St. Louis and Kansas City. 

That’s the largest number of such facilities anywhere in the U.S. other than Oklahoma, where lax regulations and enforcement has seen a thriving illicit market that’s led the state Bureau of Cannabis to seek outside help.

When problems do arise, Missouri’s marijuana program has largely been responsive, not reactive.

Case in point: this past summer, DHSS sent a guidance email to licensed operators that essentially prohibited businesses from advertising in-store promotions and other patient discounts – a critical shortcoming that impacted not only the patients’ pocketbooks but also their ability to be fully informed about the myriad products and consumption methods available.

By early November, after receiving significant feedback from both patients and operators, the department further laid out its proposed new rules with a detailed clarification that allows licensed dispensaries to hold promotional events and publicize price discounts, accompanied by a required disclaimer.

Here at the American Trade Association for Cannabis & Hemp (ATACH), the country’s leading national cannabis trade association, the new year promises to be yet another eventful one, with potential adult-use ballot measures being pursued in a number of states (including Missouri) even as members of Congress on both side of the aisle continue to pursue federal cannabis reform. Missourians can feel confident in the program the state has established and look ahead to the bright future for the prospect of cannabis legalization.

We are grateful Missouri patients now have access to the medicine they so desperately need, commend operators and regulators for their efforts to date and look forward to hearing about further growth and success in America’s heartland in the coming months.