Missouri’s health department has already fielded more than 400 pre-applications from potential marijuana growers and sellers.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which will administer the state’s medical marijuana program, won’t begin accepting formal applications for dispensaries, cultivation facilities and manufacturing plants until summer.
That hasn’t stopped potential businesses from paying more than $3 million in application fees to the state.
“That is just astounding to me, the level of interest and excitement and willingness to make that level of investment at this early of a stage,” said Derek Mays, founder and CEO of REAL Cannabis Co, a St. Louis-based group that seeks to open a combined cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing facility. “But it does make me a bit nervous!”
Missouri voters approved Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana, last November. The state is currently drafting rules and regulations on how the program will be put in place and operated.
Under Amendment 2, the state will distribute a minimum of 24 dispensary licenses to each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. In certain districts, potential applicants already far exceed that number.
For example, in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, which comprises much of St. Louis and north St. Louis County, 36 hopeful dispensary owners have submitted their fees. In Missouri’s’ 5th Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, 58 businesses or individuals have submitted pre-application fees, according to DHSS.
The state charges $6,000 to apply for dispensing licenses or manufacturing licenses. Applicants for licenses to run cultivation facilities pay $10,000. The applications are non-refundable and do not confer preferential treatment.
It’s almost certain the number of applicants will exceed the number of licenses the state will distribute, says Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association. The law that legalized medical marijuana indicates a minimum number of facilities the state is required to approve. Applicants are vying for a minimum of 61 cultivation licenses, 87 manufacturing licenses and 192 dispensing licenses.
The boom in pre-application fees is important for the state to get the program off the ground. Missouri didn’t appropriate any funds to enact Amendment 2; it’s relying on the pre-application fees to hire staff and otherwise regulate medical marijuana.
That’s one of the reasons behind the swell of pre-filed applications, said Eric Walter, a lawyer at St. Louis-based Armstrong-Teasdale who specializes in helping potential marijuana businesses.
“The number-one reason people are filing so early is there’s recognition this is an unfunded mandate,” he said.
He says he’s been fielding “an enormous” amount of calls from potential businesses interested in receiving legal guidance and advice on applying for a license.
Turning in an application fee early won’t affect whether the state ultimately approves a license, health officials say. But that doesn’t stop wishful thinking among hopeful license-holders.
“I think that most people who are interested in getting into the industry somewhat felt, whether it’s psychological or not, we didn’t want to be one of the organizations that didn’t show the motivation, or, you know, support, for the process,” Mays said.
The state’s health department will begin accepting license applications in August.