early 20 medical marijuana dispensaries and a laboratory are seeking operating licenses throughout Platte County, according to a list obtained from the Missouri department that regulates such businesses.
The facilities, which undergo a lengthy application process, are not guaranteed a license. In fact, only a small fraction of the businesses listed on a 58-page document will be granted a state license to operate, said Michael Wilson of United American Hemp in Olathe, Kansas.
Wilson, who acts as the firm’s director of research and development and contracts his services to complete applications for some of the Kansas City area businesses, said state law only allows less than 200 licenses. Therefore, many such businesses will fail to meet the criteria in the competitive field, he said.
A spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees such facilities, said the agency received initial applications from Aug. 3-19 for businesses specializing in cultivation, manufacturing, dispensary and testing facilities. In addition, there were businesses that applied for transportation of medical marijuana as of Sept. 3, Lisa Cox, the agency’s communications director, wrote, in an emailed statement.
The facilities receiving top scores will initially be licensed, she said. The breakdown is as follows: 60 cultivation facilities; 192 dispensaries (24 per congressional district) and 86 medical marijuana infused-manufacturing facilities and up to ten testing laboratories. Transportation facilities are not limited, she wrote. Department officials have discovered there “are a few issues with incorrectly listed congressional districts—we are working to correct those,” the email stated.
Wilson agreed that the standards are high.
“Just because they apply doesn’t mean they’ll get a license to operate,” he said. While some of the applications are for operation in smaller cities, such as Platte City and Riverside, many also have Kansas City, Mo. addresses and 19 total are within Platte County.
The vast majority are for larger cities in the Kansas City and St. Louis metropolitan areas, according to the list.
The department reviews applications on “completeness” and identifying information is removed before they are submitted to a third party for “blind” scoring, Cox said. Wilson said the number of applicants is surprising given that each application carries a $10,000 initial application fee. In addition, those granted state licenses must pay additional annual fees to remain in business.
“It’s an expensive business that’s heavily monitored,” he said.
Compared with other states, such as east and west coast areas, Missouri’s number of applicants is low, Wilson said. By contrast, many coastal states have received 80-90,000 applications, which is far more than Missouri.
Wilson said there’s a lot of misconception about medical marijuana and their dispensaries and he conducts workshops for municipalities in order to educate them about such operations.
“It’s not about people smoking pot on the street,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about the patient and their safety.”
There are many checks and balances built into the system, including that users must be card-carrying, sanctioned by the state, he said. Users typically are granted a specific “monthly allowance” of marijuana based on their symptoms and type of pain, he added.
Because marijuana use has not been officially approved by the United States Agriculture Department (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medical marijuana facilities must guard against advertising marijuana as a treatment or cure for any disease.
Wilson added that the availability of medical marijuana might result in fewer opioid users who seek out the deadly drugs for pain, which is a big incentive for allowing for the use of medical marijuana, he said.
Because he helps potential businesses throughout the country complete the application process, he’s familiar with the nuances of many states’ processes. He has been impressed with Missouri’s process, which he considers clear and concise, especially when compared with those in many other states. He said Missouri officials did their homework in studying the process in other states and eliminating problems they’ve seen with other applications. In fact, Wilson said, of the more than 35 applications he has co-authored Missouri offers the most streamlined process.
“They’ve done the best so far with the process,” he said.
Although the state is ultimately charged with mandating and monitoring the processes of each dispensary, it’s up to cities to decide how to zone businesses in this new field.
“Every city is scrambling…all have to live with, play together and play nicely,” he said.
For instance, cities will designate the distance between medical marijuana facilities and schools or churches. There are many headaches for cities to ensure the new industry isn’t an eyesore, he said. If cities are not successful in creating “buffer zones” between dispensaries and other area services, the state designed zones are applied.
“You’re basically building an industry from scratch,” he said of cities and states regulating the process. Of those applying for operating licenses, he said, “Those who win should be applauded.”