Cass County governments, doctors and patients are preparing for the availability of legal medical marijuana — expected in early 2020.
The first step for patients who want to buy medical marijuana is to get a medical certification from a physician. This paperwork that patients must submit to the state confirms they have one of the listed illnesses or medical conditions to be eligible for a medical marijuana card. The medical marijuana card is required in order to be able to purchase marijuana from a legal dispensary.
Doctors at Harrisonville Family Medicine started offering medical marijuana certification services to patients in the middle of August. Dr. Shaun Holden says, while they have only had a handful of patients take part so far, patients were asking about it, and the practice has decided to advertise the service on its website.
The doctor’s role in the certification process is merely to confirm a patient’s medical diagnosis.
“Our physicians will not prescribe the marijuana,” Holden said. “This is somewhat like getting a handicap placard for the car. We certify the patient has a diagnosis that qualifies by state law. We fill out the form. They submit it to the state.”
The process is more involved than approving a handicap placard. It includes a physician going over the risks of medical marijuana with their patients.
Doctors at Harrisonville Family Medicine believe medical marijuana could potentially help free some patients from the need for opioid pain medications.
FDA rules on opioids have left some patients having to choose between pain regulation or anxiety regulation, because their medicines are not recommended to be taken at the same time. Marijuana could provide these patients another option.
“The goal with any physician is to be able to make the patient more comfortable, to help them with whatever disease state they have going on. Right now, medicine doesn’t have all the answers for all the diseases out there which are not adequately treated with current medication,” Holden said.
Holden points out the safety margins are much greater with marijuana than with opioids in regards of risk of death and sedation. However, Missouri laws are not having doctors “prescribe” marijuana. Once a patient gets a medical marijuana card, dosing will be decided between the patient and the dispensary. The situation brings both physician and patient into new territory.
“This is something brand new to medicine. This is the first plant-based medication that has not come through the normal channels where FDA studies and dosage recommendations are made by physicians,” Holden said.
The State of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has already issued more than 12,000 medical marijuana cards for both patients and caregivers. While they have 30 days to approve applications, medical marijuana cards are currently taking about a week for patients to receive after filling out the paperwork.
When the medical marijuana will actually be available is still a little uncertain. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has received six cultivation, one infused product and 20 dispensary applications from potential business owners in Cass County. The department received more than 2,100 applications from across the state.
Though there are 27 applications from Cass County, there is no guarantee that the county will end up with any facilities. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services plans to license only a total of 60 cultivation facilities, 86 marijuana infused laboratory facilities and 192 dispensaries throughout the state.
The application period has closed for facilities. The Department has until Dec. 31 to approve, or “score,” applications based on quality of anticipated service and ability to adhere to regulations. The top scoring applications will receive licensure and are expected to begin operating sometime in January 2020.
Cass County Commissioners have adopted zoning regulations for facilities in case any are approved for the area. These regulations do not allow any marijuana sales or production within 1,000 feet of a daycare facility, school or church. Any outdoor operations or storage, except for growing, is prohibited.
Facilities will only be open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. No facilities will be allowed inside residences or with a residence on the property. On-site usage is prohibited and facilities will be required to have ventilation systems designed to prevent the smell of marijuana beyond the property where the facility lies.
Some local jurisdictions within Cass County have adopted similar city regulations. New laws in Belton and Harrisonville adopted earlier this summer are nearly identical to the county regulations. Raymore has added residences to the list of places that can limit where medical marijuana facilities are located.