JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Recreational marijuana is now legal in Missouri for those 21 and older, but you won’t be able to buy the product until next year.
Last month, voters decided to join 20 other states in legalizing recreational cannabis. Now the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is working to allow dispensaries, cultivators, and manufacturers to expand their businesses, meaning consumers will be able to buy product in the coming weeks.
The state’s constitution officially changed last Thursday to include 30-plus pages of Amendment 3, allowing those 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of weed.
Lyndall Fraker is the director of the state’s medical marijuana program and now is overseeing the recreational side until DHSS can hire a new director, moving Fraker to the director of public outreach for the Division of Cannabis Regulation.
“We’ll be reviewing how they’ve been operating at this point,” Fraker said. “It will be a very simple review and it’s not going to be as comprehensive as say renewing their three license.”
Dispensaries, cultivation and manufacturing licensees are applying for a comprehensive license to sell both medical and recreational marijuana. Under the constitution, the state has until Feb. 6 to approve those applications but it could happen sometime in January. He said already half of all licensees have sent in an application to be able to sell recreationally.
“It’s possible, but it’s going to take some time to review all the applications and we want to kind of do it in a big batch so everyone is on equal playing field,” Fraker said. “We plan to review as the constitution asks us to do and we certainly anticipate all of them being approved. Well over half of the 370-plus licensees that we have operating now have applied.”
In order to take on the work load of processing the applications, the Division of Cannabis under DGSS has to expand.
“We’ll go from 57 full-time equivalent employees to probably 150,” Fraker said.
It will also be up to the division to approve Missourians who want to grown their own cannabis at home, outside of the medical program. Those who are approved an at-home cultivation license will be able to have up to six flowering plants, six clones and six seedlings.
Later next year, the division will issue 144 new small marijuana businesses across the state. Supporters said this would be a way to diversify the industry.
“It will allow people to be able to apply and grow up to 250 plants, similar to a craft brewery type of situation,” Fraker said. “We will issue that first set on Oct. 4, 2023, then we will issue the second wave June 30, 2024, and the third wave on March 27, 2025, so about nine months apart.”
The licenses will be broken up into the eight congressional districts, allowing each district to get six new licensees during each wave. Under the referendum passed by voters, a “chief equity officer” would establish a program dedicated to communities that have been impacted by marijuana prohibition on the licensing process and offer resources to those interested in a license. Fraker said the department plans to hire the chief equity officer after the new year.
“It’s meant to be able to allow the industry to become as diverse as possible for the different types of groups of people that would want to be part of it,” Fraker said. “Plus, the micro business will be doing business amongst themselves. They can sell to anyone but the manufacturer, and cultivation license will only be able to sell to another micro business dispensary.”
Medical marijuana will continue to be taxed at 4%, but recreational will have a state tax of 6%, and local municipalities can add on an additional 3%. Fraker estimates cannabis could be a $1.2 billion industry in Missouri.
“The black market, we had been told, was around a $500 million industry prior to our medical program,” Fraker said. “We know now that the medical program is doing around $400 million so we know we’ve certainly taken a product that was all illegal, not tested, not safe and not taxed and rolled it into something that is tested, safe and is taxed.”
Since the medical marijuana industry opened up for patients two years ago, the state has brought in roughly $495 million, sending about 5% of that, or about $27 million, to veterans’ healthcare services. DHSS said there are about 204,000 patients and 3,000 caregivers that have licenses in Missouri.
According to the amendment, 2% of the 6% sales tax will go to the “Veterans, Health, and Community Reinvestment Fund,” then one third of the remaining balance will be transferred to the Missouri Veterans Commission, another third goes to the Missouri State Public Defender program, and the remaining portion goes to DHSS to provide grants to increase education and resources for drug addiction treatment and overdose prevention. Even though it’s legal, Fraker’s reminder is that marijuana is not allowed everywhere.
“It doesn’t mean it can be done out in public, to be seen down the sidewalks,” Fraker said. “It would be areas that are designated for that. All those same perimeters that are in place for medical are still there when it comes to public consumption.”
One place marijuana isn’t allowed is university and college campuses. Last week, one day before Amendment 3 became law, the University of Missouri System sent out an email reminding students, staff, faculty and visitors cannabis, both recreationally and medically, are not allowed anywhere on campus.
The policy is in response to the federal Drug-Free Schools and Community Act which was passed back in 1989 and the Drug-Free Workplace Act passed in 1988. Violating either one of those congressional acts could put the federal funding at risk.
Since the passage of Amendment 3, Fraker said less people have been applying for medical cards.
“Many of those that were up for annual renewal now know that the medical is going to roll to a 3-year renewal, so we’re not seeing those renewals come in, plus we do think there will be a lot that won’t be medical patients anymore,” Fraker said.
Before the November election, medical marijuana cards were only valid for one year, now they are good for three years. Amendment 3 also expanded the amount of medical marijuana a patient can buy from 4 ounces of dried marijuana flower to 6 ounces a month. The revisions also include allowing a nurse practitioner to certify a patient’s medical marijuana card instead of just a physician.
Fraker said the application for home cultivation will be available Jan. 7 on the department’s website. Then, the division has until Feb. 6 to respond.
Instructions and details for the micro-businesses will be available June 6, 2023 and applications will be accepted starting Sept. 4.
Another part of the referendum, non-violent marijuana offenses will be automatically expunged, but those currently serving time in prison or on parole will have to petition the court to have their sentences vacated, and their records expunged.