Missouri’s Medical Marijuana Program Implementation Among Best!
By John Payne
Since 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, many states found out the hard way that implementing a statewide program is often more difficult than actually passing one. In fact, a majority of the states that followed California in passing medical marijuana faced delays, confusion, legislative attacks, and budgetary uncertainty, which almost universally left sick patients and veterans waiting for longer than they should for this relief. Missouri’s close neighbor, Arkansas, passed medical marijuana in 2016, but nearly three years later patients still can’t walk into a dispensary. This pattern makes the smooth, well-thought out implementation of Missouri’s program all the more remarkable.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has done yeoman’s work to ensure implementation of Missouri’s medical marijuana program is successful. The amendment calls for quick, concrete deadlines that DHSS plans to meet, all while taking public input from patients, medical professionals, entrepreneurs and industry experts through outreach in every corner of the state. The results speak for themselves. A total of 543 pre-filed application forms and fees totaling $3,886,000 have already been received by DHSS since January for those anticipating competing for license applications. And, in March, the state’s largest medical marijuana industry and trade expo in the state’s history, hosted by the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, convened over 2,000 people to St. Louis’ Union Station.
Amendment 2’s provisions requiring the state to license a minimum number of dispensaries and cultivation facilities are to ensure fair competition and patient access throughout the state. The minimum requirements are prudent based on the number of Missourians who would presently meet the qualifying conditions and grounded in the reality of similar states’ experiences in implementing and regulating medical marijuana programs.
Oklahoma, with a population of 3.9 million, over two million fewer than Missouri, has registered over 89,000 patients – or 2.3 percent of the population – since it passed medical marijuana last summer. With a similar set of qualifying conditions for patients, it is likely that Missouri will see similar numbers.
Unfortunately, a flawed report from the University of Missouri attempts to predict how many Missourians will obtain medical marijuana patient cards but relies on data from 2015 and before and compares Missouri to states with vastly different medical marijuana laws. Missouri will have a strong patient count, because the law first and foremost puts medical treatment decisions back in the hands of doctors and patients.
A record 1.6 million people voted in favor of Amendment 2. But just as exciting is to see how well Missouri is implementing this program. No faulty report or inaccurate patient count prediction will undermine this progress. The delays and missteps that have plagued other states
aren’t happening here, and as a result Missouri patients and entrepreneurs could be the beneficiary of the best medical marijuana law in the entire country.
(John Payne was a co-author of Amendment 2 and campaign manager for New Approach Missouri, the campaign committee, with the support of patients, advocates, veterans, and physicians, that successfully passed Amendment 2 in the November 2018 general election. He is co-founder of Amendment 2 Consultants and is on the Board of Directors for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association.)
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