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Missouri started selling recreational weed 1 month ago. How's it going so far?

Marijuana flower buds are one of the most popular sales items across stores in Missouri.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Marijuana flower buds are one of the most popular sales items across stores in Missouri.

It’s been one month since Missouri began approving licenses for dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana Feb. 3. In less than 30 days, Missouri’s nearly 200 dispensaries made about $103 million in weed sales – nearly $72 million of that came from recreational sales.

According to Andrew Mullins, executive director of the Missouri Cannabis Trade Association (MOCann), Missouri has already outpaced Illinois in adult-use sales. The state is the only one bordering Missouri that also has recreational use. The first month of adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois generated about $39 million – about $33 million less than Missouri’s first month.

“That's more than double what Illinois did in a state with twice the population,” Mullins said. “So it really shows the interest and excitement for the new adult-use industry in Missouri.”

If sales continue the way they did in February, Mullins says the industry could top $1 billion in revenue this year.

A booming tourism industry dedicated to marijuana

Mullins believes part of those sales come from “canna-tourism” – people coming from surrounding states to purchase legal weed that is oftentimes cheaper than in their home state.

All of the states that border Missouri, with the exception of Illinois, do not allow recreational weed use. Those laws, plus Missouri’s relatively low taxes on the product, have made customers come in from out of state to purchase cannabis.

“Canna-tourism folks that may decide to come to Missouri to access and utilize cannabis,” Mullins says. “That seems to also be having an impact on the amount of sales that Missouri's experiencing.”

Laurie Gregory, the chief marketing officer for Good Day Farm, says the company’s stores in cities that border other states, like Kansas City and Independence, were visited by a lot of out-of-state customers.

“Opening weekend we had patients who drove from Texas and Illinois,” Gregory says. “There are states around Missouri that don't have a program. Anecdotally, what we hear is that the border town dispensaries are having significant sales because of that.”

Besides customers coming in from states that don’t have recreational dispensaries, Gregory says some come from Illinois because of the lower prices.

“At the different stores, we have flower strains priced from $25 to $40,” Gregory says. “In Illinois, it's anywhere from $30 to $60.”

Benzinga, an investment reporting website, reported in February that the least expensive weed in the Midwest belonged to Missouri. According to the report, the median price for an ⅛ ounce of flower in Missouri was $36. In Illinois, that same amount cost $50.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for MOCann, says prices come down to accessibility. Illinois currently has 113 dispensaries for 12 million people while Missouri has 196 for about 6 million people.

Taxes are another factor. While Illinois’ taxes are based on potency, Missouri has a flat 4% state tax for medical cardholders. Recreational customers have a 6% state tax with an option for municipalities to add a 3% local sales tax.

“Not only are the retail prices lower in Missouri than Illinois, but when you actually factor in the higher taxes in Illinois, the take-home price is significantly lower,” Cardetti says. “We've seen time and time again, if you tax marijuana too much, people will continue to access the illicit market, which is exactly what legalization is meant to prevent.”

Chaela Cooper, a budtender at Good Day Farm in Kansas City, hands a customer her change after making a sale Friday afternoon.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Chaela Cooper, a budtender at Good Day Farm in Kansas City, hands a customer her change after making a sale Friday afternoon.

Changing conceptions about cannabis users

Bryce Chapman moved to Missouri from the Pacific Northwest. He says he appreciates that dispensaries were allowed to open in neighborhoods with what seemed like a minimum of fuss.

“Something that happened in Seattle was, there was a law that the store couldn't be within some number of feet of a school, which was like all of Seattle,” he says. “And so it was like, ‘Where are we gonna put these places?’ So they had to work through that kind of stuff. I feel like Missouri just blew through all of that political stuff.”

Chapmans also likes that some felony marijuana offenses can be expunged under the constitutional amendment legalizing recreational sales in Missouri.

Mullins of MOCann says there is broader acceptance of marijuana use.

“I've been the industry five years and just in that time the conversations I have now are completely different than the conversations I had five years ago,” Mullins says. “You've got folks that just didn't socially or culturally accept cannabis as medicine and were still operating off of old perceptions and ideals. I think that has changed so dramatically in the last few years.”

He says people visit dispensaries across the state for a variety of reasons – from medicinal use to relaxation to social interaction.

“It's a lot of that presence across these communities where people are like, ‘I think this could help me and I want to get access to this.’ Some of the folks might be starting the weekend. But for a lot of folks, and we see this as the majority, they’re really trying to use cannabis as a treatment for some of the things that may ail them.”

Experimenting with the product

Chapman bought weed before it was legal recreationally. He’s found it accessible to buy from dispensaries and says the consistent, straightforward pricing and regulated product keeps him coming back.

“You can just go in, get what you need and leave,” Chapman says. “You don't have to find the guy with the right kind of stuff or anything like that – you can just go get exactly what you need. I really like how scientific it is. Like, ‘Do you want this much THC or do you want a higher dose? Do you want sativa dominant?’ Before it was just like, I'll just get what I can get.”

Joseph Amadi is fairly new to buying recreational cannabis. Outside of the From the Earth dispensary in downtown Kansas City, he had just finished his third purchase from a dispensary. He says knowing exactly what he’s getting will make his high more enjoyable.

“I'm experimenting, trying to find my best levels of indica and sativa. This is the first opportunity that I've actually had to do that because I'm used to buying just from some random people. And you don't really know what you're getting.”

Cheryl Annen, co-founder of the 3rd Street Dispensary in Lee’s Summit, says many of her customers share Chapman’s and Amadi’s feelings. While she says her dispensary is not able to compete with street pricing because of licensing and regulations, the quality and knowledge of the product keep customers from buying their weed elsewhere.

“We can do and is worth every single nickel is providing you that integrity and the safety of the product,” Annen says. “You do not have to worry about it being accidentally or intentionally tainted with fentanyl or an additive that coagulates in your lungs.”

That knowledge is part of what made Amadi begin coming to dispensaries instead of buying his cannabis illicitly. He says he appreciates the “budtenders,” as dispensary employees are often called, and the expertise they add.

“They're really knowledgeable and helpful,” Amadi says. “I feel like most of the people that are in (dispensaries) are also trying to figure out exactly what it is that they like. So it takes a little bit more time but it’s like a fun experimentation process.”

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3

Savannah Hawley-Bates is a general assignment reporter for KCUR in Kansas City.