Homegrown health: Patients cultivate marijuana to cut costs, enhance control

In October, medical marijuana dispensaries in Missouri made their first sales. However, retail dispensaries are not the only way to legally access medical marijuana in the state.

As a result of the passage of Amendment 2 by Missouri voters in 2018, medical marijuana is allowed to be grown and used at home by qualifying patient cultivators. Though many medical marijuana users opt for the ease dispensaries offer, others view the effort and startup costs of home growing an investment that will pay off in the long run.

To qualify to grow medical marijuana at home, a patient must first receive a medical marijuana identification card after visiting a physician. Then, they may apply to get a patient cultivator card, approved by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, or DHSS.

Ben Brazil, of Kansas City, started his journey to become a licensed patient and home grower soon after Missouri voters approved legalization in 2018. Now, Brazil is one of the organizers planning the first Missouri Cannabis Cup, a medical marijuana festival and trade show. Pandemic permitting, the event is scheduled to take place in Kansas City next April.

“I got really involved; I got my card pretty early on,” Brazil said. “And we’re kind of on the map in Missouri, because we just went medicinal, and you know, a lot of other states just went legal recreationally in the November election.”

Cultivation costs

In addition to getting physician and state approval, a home grower must pay both the state patient fee and the patient cultivator application fee. Together, those currently cost about $128. For the remainder of the current fiscal year, the annual renewal fee is the same.

Additional costs for supplies increase the total amount of capital needed to cultivate medical marijuana at home for patients.

“You got to buy lights, you got to buy soil, you got to buy different pots, you got nutrients,” Brazil said. “There are all these things that go into the initial setup costs. You could spend, you know, four to five thousand (dollars), easy.”

Brazil views these expenses as an investment.

“Once the initial setup costs are paid, really the only thing you’re paying for is nutrients and electricity,” Brazil said. “The initial costs may be high, but the investment is worth it to me.”

Dispensaries may offer more product variety, but that can come at a steep price. The amount of money that can be saved by growing at home is why some prefer to be patient cultivators.

“I (save) hundreds and hundreds of dollars,” Brazil said. “I went to a dispensary for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and an eighth of flower there, after taxes, was 70 bucks. So, you’re talking about four to five hundred bucks an ounce each month.”

Around the state, there are shops that sell equipment, teach classes and train people to grow their own medical marijuana. Ben Pitzer, an advocate for patient cultivation, co-owns Pressure Drop Grow Shop in Hillsboro. His shop opened in September.

“We’re here to teach others, help and just spread knowledge along,” Pitzer said. “To be able to cultivate ourselves and have that level of control is a beautiful thing.”

‘An element of trust’

Missouri regulates how much medical marijuana a patient cultivator is allowed to grow at home. They can grow up to six flowering plants and six nonflowering plants at one time in an “enclosed locked facility,” according to the DHSS.

“Whatever accountability there is, I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re coming out and checking people’s houses, because I imagine there are thousands of people like me growing at home,” Brazil said. “On top of that, they got commercial guys growing hundreds of plants for dispensary, so I don’t think they’re worried about little me.”

Unlike the large cultivation facilities, home growers are not required to have their product tested or inspected.

“There’s got to be, you know, an element of trust there and honor,” said Lyndall Fraker, the top medical marijuana official at the DHSS. “I mean, we’re not going to be able to go into every home that’s home cultivating. We have the authority to; the Constitution gives us that. But, you know, we hope that the home cultivators will be good operators, the way that they’re supposed to be.”

Home growers here to help

Despite stereotypes surrounding the use of marijuana, Pitzer and Brazil see themselves as no different than advocates for any other medical group.

“I’ve just seen it work wonders for so many people I know and love,” Pitzer said. “So it’s a wonderful thing we now have access to it as patients.”

The example of other medical marijuana advocates inspired Pitzer to learn about medical marijuana, open his shop and be an advocate in the community.

“I dove into Missouri medical cannabis headfirst and started connecting with people and paying attention to the growers who were already out there,” Pitzer said. “We have a pretty neat community here, and I’m really proud of it.”

Pitzer sees the medical marijuana community as a family that wants to help everyone achieve and succeed with their individual goals. Sometimes Pitzer’s shop even offers free certifications for people who may not be able to afford it on their own.

“You have to reach out to the community for help,” Pitzer said. “Just like if you’re a beginner cultivator and growing for yourself, don’t be overwhelmed and overthink it because of all these things you have to spend money on; reach out to the community and take advantage of help that’s offered.”

As more medical marijuana businesses begin operating in Missouri, other people will continue to enjoy their right to cultivate at home.

“I mean, time is really changing,” Brazil said. “Who would have thought? Some little guy in Missouri that grows tomatoes in his back yard, now he can grow weed.”

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