COLUMBIA, Mo. - To date, the state of Missouri has collected more than $3 million from hopeful medical marijuana entrepreneurs and has not even accepted the first license application.
The financial and bureaucratic obstacles do not seem to be stopping the people who want to enter the cannabis business.
Eapen Thampy, a registered lobbyist in Missouri, says, "Amendment 2 was not written for entrepreneurs. It was not written for our farmers. The fees are kind of onerous and the licensing process is difficult and expensive." Despite those issues, Thampy is a supporter of Amendment 2, which passed last November by a large margin of voters. Thampy echoes many concerns raised by budding Mid-Missouri entrepreneurs.
At the beginning of 2019, the Department of Health and Senior Services started accepting what it calls "pre-license fees." These are nonrefundable payments of between $6,000 and $10,000 and are basically the permit to apply for a license to open a cultivation, dispensary or infusion facility.
The actual license application fees, ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, are due June 4. Although the number of licenses is limited, there is no limit as to how many license applications may be filed and fees paid, which leaves some, including Thampy, concerned about an unlimited piggybank for state government.
Thampy is a self-described Libertarian and says: "The last thing I want to hear about is 'unlimited piggybank' for the government, but it will bring prosperity to Missouri. It'll bring a lot of jobs. It'll bring a lot of opportunities. It'll lift a lot of boats."
Clarinda Davis in a real estate agent in Columbia, and she says she is working to see that specific boats are lifted. Davis says, "What I'm doing is making sure the process is fair for anybody that wants to try to open up a dispensary, especially a minority, women's groups and veterans."
One of the many qualifications for a license to get into the medical marijuana business is prior experience, according to Thampy. If native Missourians have any in-state experience in dealing with marijuana, they are likely a criminal - not a business success story. Thampy says that is something that is likely to change. Thampy says: "I think that there are some hurdles to be had especially with the competitive nature with the licensing that's envisioned. But I think that (Gov. Mike Parson) will figure it out. One of the things I really hope this Legislature is ready to consider is opening this program up to entrepreneurship, opening up this program up to our farmer base."
Davis says people of diverse backgrounds should be allowed to be a part of the potential cannabis gold rush, especially responsible Missourians. She says, "I think they should be the first in line to be able to put something into society so they can give back." She says the applications should also require applicants to indicate how they are "giving back to the community."
Amendment 2 includes a tax rate of 4% on medical marijuana sales. That revenue is earmarked for veterans' services in the state.
Thampy also stresses the agricultural importance of marijuana cultivation. He says: "In Missouri, corn and soybeans are not making anyone any money. We have a big opportunity because if we can open this program up to our farmers, we will be able to, in the future, export cannabis globally for medical purposes."
Thampy says cannabis, drug policy and criminal justice reform are very important to Missourians and Americans. He says most people have "had a family member in jail, or knows someone who’s been in jail. So we’re at the end of the generation of this failed system. I think that, if there’s one thing Americans see eye-to-eye on right now it's the need for changing our criminal justice system and reforming our marijuana laws."
State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, is the sponsor of House Bill 341. The measure would expunge certain misdemeanor marijuana-related offenses for Missourians who get medical marijuana certification IDs from the state. It was approved Thursday morning by the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice by a 7-2 vote.
As of this writing, any form of marijuana is illegal in Missouri.