Medical Marijuana Regulation Director Lyndall Fraker, with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, was hosted as guest speaker by the Greater West Plains Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon Thursday.
The luncheon was sponsored by Dave Thomas of Shelter Insurance and held in the West Plains Civic Center’s Magnolia Room.
Fraker began his talk with an overview of the Missouri medical marijuana program. The measure to change the state constitution to allow for the legalization and regulation of medical marijuana was approved in November 2018 by Missouri voters with a 66% margin, Fraker reminded those in attendance.
The constitutional amendment includes a financial benefit to Missouri veterans through the Veterans Health and Care Fund, a 4% sales tax on the anticipated $100 million in revenue to be collected by the state in the medical marijuana program’s first full year.
A timeline presented by Fraker showed deadlines the state has been required to meet to set regulations for facilities and licensing for facility employees and patients, accept and evaluate applications, and inspect facilities.
In March 2019, state inspectors began walk-throughs of the 60 cultivation facilities to allow for at least a 90-day growth period, which began in May or June, he said.
Patient card applications, with a fee of $25, began to be accepted in July and have been since been issued to patients and caregivers. Patients are allowed to possess medical marijuana and grow it for themselves now, even though dispensaries won’t be open for another few months.
After Dec. 31, patients must either grow their own supply or make their purchase from a regulated Missouri dispensary, and medical marijuana products must be purchased in Missouri using a state-issued card, Fraker said.
To grow their own supply, patients or card-issued caregivers must pay an additional $100 application fee, are held to regulations meant to ensure the plants or their products don’t end up in the wrong hands, and adhere to possession amounts allowed by law.
There is no public list of doctors who are willing to prescribe medical marijuana, partly because of healthcare privacy regulations, Fraker said. That information will largely be communication between patients and their doctors, he added.
Fraker answered other common questions, such as the handling of possible intoxicated driving by patients and employer standards regarding medical marijuana use.
Those topics will also be left to the discretion of local law enforcement and employers, he said, as law enforcement officers already have to make judgments about drivers possibly under the influence of marijuana or other drugs not easily tested for. Employers are encouraged to enact official policies regarding tolerance of medical marijuana use.
Fraker said his department has held workshops for members of law enforcement regarding the issue.
He began his presentation with an admission that years ago he would never have imagined being asked to oversee medical marijuana regulation, but conceded there has been a culture shift regarding the issue.
Though he emphasized he wasn’t there to advocate for the medical marijuana industry, he said he has seen what appear to be benefits from the use of medical marijuana, including the treatment of severe and debilitating epilepsy in children.
The positive economic impact to state revenues from collecting medical marijuana taxes and nonrefundable fees from facilities applicants can’t be denied, he added.
He also reminded those present that, if recreational marijuana use is legalized in Missouri, as it has been in other states following medical marijuana legalization, the state can claim a share of the current black market for recreational marijuana, estimated at $500 million.
If recreational use would be legalized, that would also more than double the number of licensed marijuana facilities, including “consumption lounges,” which now stands at about 340.
Two medical marijuana dispensaries are slated to open in the Southern Hills Shopping area in West Plains, with the next nearest dispensary located in Mtn. Grove. There 192 dispensary licenses issued granted statewide, or 24 allowed in each of the state’s eight congressional districts.