Hopeful Boone County dispensary owners sink six figures to set up shop

Hopeful Boone County dispensary owners sink six figures to set up shop

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Jill Hartleip-Wren said it's taken time, money and help to get to where her business is right now.

Hartleip-Wren started a business with her family and a friend to secure one of the state's first medical marijuana dispensary licenses. The company, JMMJ LLC, wants to set up the dispensary in the 1300 block of Grand Avenue in Columbia, just north of Business Loop 70.

The road to get there, though, took months of planning and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hartleip-Wren said she has spent six figures to remodel the building, including making it more accessible to people with disabilities. The company also had trouble finding a spot in the first place. Hartleip-Wren said she was grateful to find an owner that would let them put money down to secure the spot while they waited for the state to make a decision.

"No strip malls wanted anything to do with us," Hartleip-Wren said. "There were just a lot of landlords that were afraid to rent to us due to lack of information.

Hopeful dispensary owners tell ABC 17 News that the $6,000 nonrefundable application fee the state Department of Health and Senior Services charged was just the start of the money needed. Aaron Stone, co-owner of Canna Lux, LLC, said his firm has spent $250,000 to get its building in the 7200 block of Highway 40 in Boone County up to state safety standards. 

"We need to make sure that we have software and systems that the state can see, live-feed at any time into our daily reporting, how much inventory we have on hand and what we sell our product for from a price standpoint," Stone said.

Stone moved to Missouri from Colorado to get involved in the state's growing medical marijuana industry. Voters approved the constitutional amendment in November, and the state will have the first round of dispensaries, cultivators, infused product manufacturing facilities, and testing labs licensed by the end of the year. Stone partnered with Amir Ziv, a Columbia businessman, to try to set up a dispensary in Boone County, along with a 30,000 square-foot cultivation and infused product manufacturer in Cooper County. 

The two settled on the Highway 40 property after seeing it sit vacant for a year. The two neighbors live near the property and worked with the building owner to come up with a lease agreement.

"It needed someone to come in and actually promote it and have something nice on the side of the road for the community," Stone said.

Stone said he consulted for businesses in Colorado to get them set up in the industry, which in that state now includes legal recreational use. He said that work helped him navigate Missouri's application process. Stone said the state's use of a blind scorer, which requires all applicant names be either abbreviated or redacted, was new for him and required extra attention. 

Hartleip-Wren said one of her business partner's work in Colorado also helped them handle the application. The Department of Health and Senior Services, she said, has been receptive to the feedback she and other members of the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association have given about the application. She said the state should consider paring down the application process itself, or consider making it more affordable. 

"We really want this to be a business industry for Missourians and for people who are not just big, corporate money," Hartleip-Wren said. "We want the small guy, the small business owner to succeed in this market."

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