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Missouri health authorities gear up for recreational marijuana

High-end marijuana buds on sale at a Denver dispensary.
Craig F. Walker
Denver Post via Getty Images
High-end marijuana buds on sale at a Denver dispensary.

With the adoption of Amendment 3 by 53 percent of voters at the recent general election, Missouri’s marijuana system is changing.

With the adoption of Amendment 3 by 53 percent of voters at the recent general election, Missouri’s regulation system for marijuana is changing.

Amendment 3 takes effect Dec. 8, making Missouri one of 21 recreational marijuana states — a legal framework often called “adult-use cannabis” by industry types.

The new amendment means Missouri adults 21 and older will be able to purchase and possess up to three ounces of dried marijuana plant. The state medical marijuana program, created by a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018, remains in place. As of this year’s general election, a total of 39 states has a medical marijuana program, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

Kathryn Jamboretz is chief spokesperson for the Amendment 3 campaign, Legal Missouri 2022.

She told KSMU last week that Missouri’s cannabis industry anticipates an influx of new customers once state authorities complete “comprehensive” licensing that will allow dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana.

Jamboretz said, “When Illinois went to adult use [in 2020], that first few days, weeks, there were lines wrapped around the building. So we are prepared for a pretty big uptick in consumer demand.”

Jamboretz said from the perspective of marijuana businesspeople and legalization advocates, Missouri officials are moving rapidly to get ready for legalization.

“We can really see the wheels of Missouri government start to turn,” she said. “You can clearly get the impression that they've been thinking about this a lot for the last few months, and preparing for what would happen if the yes vote [on Amendment 3] went through.”

Dispensaries expected to be licensed in 'early February'

Lisa Cox, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said it’s likely that dispensaries will get the “comprehensive” licenses required for recreational sales in “early February.”

Program rules should be finalized before then, allowing marijuana businesses like dispensaries and cultivation centers to “know what standards are in place before operating as a comprehensive license holder,” Cox said.

The day after voters approved Amendment 3, Missouri health authorities quietly changed the name of the Show-Me State medical marijuana program: It’s now the Division of Cannabis Regulation, instead of being known as the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation. For most industry types and patient advocates, the term “cannabis” is preferred over “marijuana,” which is seen as a pejorative word.

Cox said the name change was not required by Amendment 3 and is “more of an internal operations change” rather than something that would impact patients, recreational consumers or marijuana business facilities.

She said that fully legalizing marijuana “greatly expands on much of what the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation has been doing” since Missouri voters approved medical marijuana four years ago.

Cox also said Missouri’s health authorities began preparing for Amendment 3’s likely passage before the general election.

She said the timelines called for by the amendment require quick action that “would have been impossible for our department to meet” had officials waited until after the election to begin implementing the new law.

Meanwhile, last week the division began recruiting a new director to replace Lyndall Fraker, a former Marshfield-area lawmaker who has overseen the program since it launched. Cox confirmed Fraker will take a public outreach job for the Division of Cannabis Regulation, news reported earlier by Greenway magazine.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.