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Slow Start For Missouri's Medical Marijuana Program

DHSS begins accepting medical marijuana applications
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

After taking in $4.2 million in early application fees, Missouri’s medical marijuana program is off to a slow start since it began accepting full applications on Saturday.

Roughly 600 applicants chose to pay their required fees in advance, but so far only 27 full applications have been submitted. The application process is extensive, and the deadline isn’t until Aug. 17. Still, Lyndall Fraker, the director of the state’s medical marijuana program, said he was surprised by the low numbers. 

“I expected to see more of them being submitted the first day or two, or at least by Monday, the first business day,” said Fraker. “So, it’s a little surprising. There’s going to be an awful lot coming in in the next 10 days.” 

There are several types of licenses within the state’s program. The cultivation facilities, where the product will be grown, has the most expensive application fee: $10,000. Dispensary and infused-product manufacturing facilities cost $6,000 to apply. There’s also licenses for transporting the product, seed-to-sale tracking systems and testing facilities, which all cost $5,000 to apply. These application fees are nonrefundable. 

According to the department, they received prefiled forms and fees for 134 cultivation facilities, 334 dispensaries and 94 manufacturing facilities. Fraker said collecting the prefiled fees upfront was an important part of making the program self-sufficient and not relying on tax dollars. 

There will be limits on how many licenses can be awarded, at least initially. For dispensaries, they will be divided among congressional districts. There are eight districts in Missouri, and each district can be awarded up to 24 dispensaries. There will be up to 86 manufacturing licenses, 60 for cultivation, and 10 for testing. These will be based strictly on how an application scores, not by location or region. 

The so-called blind scoring of the application will be done by a third-party company “outside of government,” said Fraker. The department is not sure what company that is yet but hopes to have one selected in “a few days.” 

To try to ensure a fair process for scoring, applicants can either redact personal information on their applications or include only initials where personal names are required. Fraker said both this, and choosing an outside agency to score the applications, is critical. 

“Just the transparency and making sure that everything’s upfront,” said Fraker. “And there’s no inside connection or deals being made. So it’s all independent.” 

In comparison, Illinois’ medical marijuana program has been in operation for a couple years, but its application process was a bit more behind the curtain. Five members of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation along with five members of the Illinois Department of Agriculture were chosen to be in charge of the blind scoring. The names of those individuals remain confidential. 

Not unique to Illinois or any other state with a medical marijuana program is the lack of diversity within the market. An overwhelming majority of licenses have been awarded to white men. But Fraker said this is an issue Missouri is trying to get out in front of through the application process. 

“We’re doing what we think we can within the confines of the constitution,” he said. “There’s some scoring questions that give some bonus points based on diversity … three or four questions specifically, so that’s one way we’re addressing that.” 

There are extra points awarded for those applying in a ZIP code with a high unemployment rate, and there are some questions on the application related to hiring a diverse staff. 

The department has 150 days to approve or deny applications. 

The only type of certification the department is not yet accepting is for a facility agent. These will be required for employees working within medical marijuana facilities. Those cost $75 but won’t be available until licenses have been awarded. 

Medical marijuana is not expected to be available to consumers in Missouri until spring of 2020.

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.