Legal cannabis plants are set to sprout from Missouri soil this year under licenses granted by the state’s Agriculture Department.
Two nonprofit operations earlier this month got the nod to grow the federally controlled plants specifically to treat an estimated 450 or more Missourians with intractable epilepsy.
Both license holders are in the St. Louis area but will be required to have three distribution locations each despite the small potential customer base. Buyers must register with the state to acquire and use the products.
“This is a very small audience right now. It’s likely that we’ll lose money the first couple of years,” said Mitch Meyers, co-owner of one nonprofit license holder, BeLeaf Corp. “We can’t lose money forever.”
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BeLeaf in St. Peters, Mo., has an option to buy seven acres of farmland but will build a greenhouse covering only half an acre, Meyers said. She said the not-for-profit company probably will employ 15 to 18 people.
The other license holder is Noah’s Arc Foundation–Missouri, which is in Chesterfield. Company officials could not be reached on Friday.
Last year, Missouri’s legislature approved the narrow cannabis operations based on anecdotal evidence that one of the substances in cannabis plants helps control seizures. The law required the Missouri Department of Agriculture to handle the licensing process.
Rep. Caleb Jones, a Columbia Republican, said he filed the bill based partly on his knowledge of a child with intractable epilepsy.
Missouri is allowing the two licensed operations to grow plants to produce only one specific product, an extract for epilepsy patients. The extract, an oil, must be rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, at least 5 percent by weight. It can contain only a tiny amount, no more than 0.3 percent by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis that produces a high.
Various strains of cannabis have different levels of THC and CBD. Plants that have high levels of CBD are generally considered hemp, and plants that have high levels of THC are considered marijuana. Missouri’s regulations talk about hemp operations.
“You cannot get high on it,” Jones said of the plants and products Missouri’s law allows.
Jones said the law means patients with intractable epilepsy should have access to CBD oil in September.
Missouri was among 11 states last year to approve CBD-only operations.
Several states allow the use of marijuana products for treatment of pain, glaucoma, cancer, arthritis, nausea, anorexia, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and several other conditions. Colorado, Washington and Alaska have approved marijuana use for recreational purposes.
Federal law still treats cannabis as a controlled substance, but Uncle Sam has allowed states’ medical and recreational laws to function essentially without its interference.
Meyers, a resident of Edwardsville, Ill., and BeLeaf co-owner Bernie Heimos in the St. Louis area also have applied for a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Illinois through a different, for-profit company.
Prospective buyers of the hemp extract from either licensed Missouri operation will need more than a note from their doctors.
They must apply to the state for a hemp extract registration card and include a certification from a neurologist that the patient had not responded to three other treatment options and that his epilepsy was intractable. The state also requires a copy of the neurologist’s evaluation and observation relating to the treatment for intractable epilepsy.
One provision in the state’s rules forbids anyone other than a hemp extract registration card holder to “open or break the seal placed on a packaged and labeled container of hemp extract.”
Missouri identified seven other applicants for the two hemp extract licenses it issued.
Prairie Weed Cultivation & Care Center
Chronic Respiratory Fund
Help For A Cure
Missouri Wellness Group
Akeso Hope Foundation