Application process poses challenges for Missouri’s would-be medical marijuana entrepreneurs

Missouri entrepreneurs hoping to get into the multimillion-dollar medical marijuana industry first must clear a number of hurdles. Step one: Obtaining a license.

“Missouri is very competitive,” said Dre Taylor, founder of Nile Valley Aquaponics. “So you know, if you’re trying to win the application, you need to have your ducks in a row.”

A company rooted in urban farming, Nile Valley Aquaponics has filed a pre-application to become a licensed grower and seller of medical marijuana in Kansas City under new medical marijuana guidelines approved last November.

Though 526 applications for licenses have already been pre-filed with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, only 338 licenses are expected to be approved for cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries of medical marijuana, according to the agency.

Entrepreneurs of colors don’t have it easy, Taylor said. The Missouri state legislature rejected bills that would have awarded bonus points in the application scoring process to businesses majority owned by people of color and women.

“I wish they had put something in there. … Some progressive states have equity programs,” Taylor said.

The application does offer two open-ended questions related to diversity in employment and company ownership, but they only account for a few points toward scoring, said Jon Gold, lawyer and founder of Reynolds and Gold, a Springfield-based medical marijuana business law and consulting firm.

Gold’s firm paired up with Campaignium, a Springfield-based digital marketing firm, to publish a guide to help entrepreneurs obtain licenses for their business.

The guide includes information about the types of facilities included in the newly legalized industry, the cost of starting a business, important dates and rules and on what basis a license may be awarded.

“The intention really is just to pull in all of the information about license applications in Missouri into one place,” said Austin Wakeman, search engine operation specialist at Campaignium.

Applications can only be filed during a short window — Aug. 3-17 — Wakeman said. Once the state begins issuing licenses, it might be too late for those who have not already applied.

“I think the biggest good thing that can come out of this guide for an entrepreneur is being able to find information in a convenient manner,” said Payton Stringer, content creator for Reynolds and Gold.

Many entrepreneurs don’t completely understand the legal and financial requirements to step into the medical marijuana industry, Stringer said. The state is still adding and changing amendments, which can make the information further convoluted for a novice, she added.

Missouri is expected to filter applications based on whether the applicant has enough property, money and in-depth knowledge of the application process, Gold said.

“They have to focus a lot of time and effort on creating their answers to the application questions,” Gold said. “And the highest point totals will then receive the licenses.”

This story was produced through a collaboration between Missouri Business Alert and Startland News.

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