Marijuana: Uncertain Medicine
Missouri voters approved medical marijuana by passing Amendment 2 in Tuesday’s election, so smoke ’em if you got ’em, right? Wrong.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will spend months developing rules before the first medical marijuana card is even applied for, much less granted. It will take even longer before anyone can apply to sell it.
Those rule-making processes haven’t always gone smoothly in the other 31 states that have legalized medical marijuana. This summer, after Oklahoma voters passed it, the state’s health department tried to enact strict restrictions — including banning smoke-able products. Pro-marijuana groups filed a pair of lawsuits, the state attorney general said the health department had overstepped its bounds and new rules had to be written.
Jack Cardetti of a New Approach Missouri, the group that pushed for legalization, said it tried to model its constitutional amendment on states where the rollout was smoothest. But he said it will still probably be late 2019 or early 2020 before anyone can walk into a dispensary in Missouri and buy medical marijuana.
Here’s what to expect and when:
▪ By June the Missouri health department must create a marijuana card application form that patients can bring to their doctors. It’s unclear right now whether the forms will require the doctors to explicitly recommend marijuana or just confirm the patients have a medical condition that qualifies them for marijuana. The constitutional amendment lists nine specific conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and glaucoma, but also says doctors and patients could petition the department for others. Sorry, Kansans: Patients must be Missouri residents. And those under 18 need permission from a parent as well as a doctor.
▪ Also by June the state must provide application forms for people who want to grow medical marijuana, infuse it into oils and edible products or sell it in any form, whether raw plant, edible or otherwise. The constitutional amendment allows patients to grow up to six plants at home, but they will need a license for that, in addition to their marijuana card.
▪ By July the state must start accepting and evaluating medical marijuana card applications from patients. State health officials will have 30 days to determine if they qualify.
▪ By August the state must start accepting and evaluating cultivation, infusion and dispensary licenses. State officials will have 150 days to determine who qualifies.
The state will also have to write rules about how much people with marijuana cards can buy and possess at one time, although Amendment 2 provides some minimum limits.
As the state is writing its regulations, local governments may be writing their own. Amendment 2 doesn’t allow cities and counties to ban dispensaries within their borders, but it does allow them to limit things like where they’re located and what hours they’re open.
Heather Smyth, director of marketing for a Colorado-based company that helps legal cannabis businesses with payroll, human resources and other operational chores, said cities and counties will likely consider keeping dispensaries a certain distance from places like schools and churches.
“Very similar to what you might see from a liquor store, but even more regulated,” Smyth said.
Laura Goddeeris, who studies cannabis regulations for the International City/County Management Association, said local governments in Missouri should start having those discussions immediately because it can sometimes take a year to get regulations in place.
While Amendment 2 provides them the opportunity to bring in tax revenue from marijuana sales, it also could bring new expenses for things like code compliance and tax collection.
“So it’s a really complex and multifaceted issue,” Goddeeris said, “and I think local governments sometimes are caught off guard by that.”