Health Care

Jackson County leads Missouri in applications to grow, sell medical marijuana

Group aims to help patients defray costs and get started in Missouri’s medical cannabis program

Ayden’s Alliance, an advocacy group, is raising money and awareness to help patients as Missouri’s medical marijuana program gears up.
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Ayden’s Alliance, an advocacy group, is raising money and awareness to help patients as Missouri’s medical marijuana program gears up.

Hundreds gathered at the KCI Expo Center on Tuesday to learn more about running medical marijuana businesses — an opportunity people are embracing more in the Kansas City area than anywhere else in Missouri.

The Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association hosted a seminar at the expo center the same day that the state released new data showing that Jackson County so far leads all of Missouri in business applications to grow (21), manufacture (14) and sell (69) cannabis products.

“Although these numbers are not at all final, we hope this information will give potential applicants, as well as cities and counties, some perspective on the field of applicants in their respective areas,” said Lyndall Fraker, the director of medical marijuana regulation for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Fraker is in the midst of implementing the medical marijuana program Missouri voters approved by a wide margin in November.

His division released application forms for potential patients to bring to their doctors earlier this month and will start vetting applications Friday. His team won’t begin vetting the business applications until Aug. 3, but they’ve already received 543 pre-filed application forms and almost $4 million in fees.

The constitutional amendment voters approved requires the state to license a minimum of 24 dispensaries in each of the state’s eight congressional districts for a total of at least 192.

That means some people applying in Jackson County are going to get turned down if the state decides to give out just the minimum in District 5 and District 6.

Women and minority-owned businesses have expressed concern that Missouri’s medical marijuana industry will be disproportionately white and male, which has happened in other states.

The first dispensaries probably won’t open until December or January, but one study has predicted that once they do the medical marijuana industry will grow to a $100 million-a-year enterprise by 2025. Projections of how much demand there will be have varied widely, however, with a University of Missouri study estimating 26,000 patients by 2022 and a trade group that spearheaded the constitutional amendment estimating there will be more like 200,000.

Missouri was the 32nd state to legalize cannabis for medical use, despite objections by physicians groups that say more study of the plant’s risks and benefits are needed.

Ashley Markum is eager to access it for her 6-year-old son, Ayden, who has intractable epilepsy with seizures that have resisted pharmaceutical treatments.

A portion of the proceeds from Tuesday’s event at the expo center went to Ayden’s Alliance, a nonprofit Markum started to help low-income families access medical marijuana, which is not covered by insurance.

Markum, who lives near Springfield, said the group wants to start with 50 patients and estimates it will need $29,000 to get them started and about $15,000 a month thereafter.

“These are not people who want to smoke the occasional joint,” Markum said. “These are people who need concentrated medicine. It’s going to cost a lot.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.