As Missouri mulls medical marijuana, neighbors show slow path from vote to sales

Missouri’s midterm ballot features three different proposals that would legalize medical marijuana in the state. If any measure passes, the path from Election Day to the legal sale of medical marijuana could take months or years, if the examples of neighboring states are any indication.

The proposals Missouri voters will consider on Tuesday differ by their tax rates and what the tax revenue would fund.

Amendment 2 would levy a 4 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue funding veteran health care programs. Its backers include New Approach Missouri.

Amendment 3, supported by Springfield physician and attorney Brad Bradshaw, would tax sales by growers to dispensaries, and charge a 15 percent tax on sales from dispensaries to patients. Revenue would help establish a new medical research institute in the state.

Proposition C, supported by Missourians for Patient Care, would create a 2 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue funding veteran health care, public safety, drug treatment programs and early childhood development initiatives.

If voters approve more than one of the proposals, according to Missouri law, “the proposal that receives the largest affirmative vote shall prevail even if that proposal did not receive the greatest majority of affirmative votes.” However, the Missouri Constitution supersedes state statutes.

Plenty of questions remain about the prospect of medical marijuana in Missouri, but for a sense of how neighboring states have adopted it, Missourians can look to Illinois and Arkansas.

Illinois

Although the governor of Illinois signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in August 2013, the first sale in the state wasn’t until November 2015.

“The application process was very long and tedious,” said Jeff Cox, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “We literally had applications dropped off in U-Haul trucks that they pulled boxes and boxes out of. Everything had to be sifted through with a fine-tooth comb.”

The applications were for cultivation centers and dispensaries. Once the department went through the applications, it chose 21 cultivation centers and 55 dispensaries. That led to another time-intensive step in the process.

“Once people accepted their permits, they had to build their infrastructure,” Cox said. “Many of these places had to build from the ground up.”

Next came the growing process, which takes three to five months. After all of those steps — and more than two years after the bill was signed into law — Illinois cultivation centers first sold marijuana to dispensaries.

Since November 2015, retail sales of medical marijuana in the state have totaled $221 million.

In August, the state further expanded access to medical marijuana when its Opioid Alternative Pilot Program took effect.

That growth has meant expanded opportunities for Illinois dispensaries, according to Bill Wiorek, general manager at the Midwest Compassion Center, a dispensary in Romeoville, Illinois.

Wiorek is a veteran and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, one of 41 qualifying conditions to be eligible for medical marijuana in Illinois.

“(Midwest Compassion Center) is up to 30 new patients this month,” Wiorek said. “We are constantly growing. A lot of it has to do with educating the public.”

In the last year, Midwest Compassion Center has doubled its profits, he said.

Arkansas

Although Arkansas voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016, the state has yet to see the sale of any products. .

After the vote, it took Arkansas about a year to approve the rules and regulations. Then came an application process for cultivation centers and dispensaries similar to what Illinois went through.

The state issued permits to five cultivation centers earlier this year, according to the Associated Press. Thirty-two dispensaries will receive licenses later this year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

“We are looking at the first dispensary opening the first quarter of next year,” said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission. “Early 2019, we will start seeing dispensaries opening across the state.”

Even though nothing has been sold, Arkansas officials have high hopes for the program. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission had approved just more than 6,300 medical marijuana cards as of Nov. 2, but officials are projecting about 40,000 patients in the future.

“Based on the number of patients thus far and stats from other states, we think 40,000 Arkansans with cards will result in $38 million in annual sales with about $3 million in state tax revenue,” Hardin said.

Missouri

Rick Grucza is a professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis and has published multiple articles and studies on marijuana policy. He said he isn’t surprised by the length of the process that took place in Illinois and Arkansas.

“Legalization of marijuana in general, medical or recreational, takes at least a year for the system to get up and running,” Grucza said.

He believes a similarly long process would occur in Missouri if voters approve medical marijuana.

“It could be a pretty lengthy process depending on the proposition passed,” Grucza said. “There is going to be both a legislative process and a business process.”


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