ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri plans to license more than 300 medical marijuana-related businesses this year, and if that's not enough to meet patient demand, even more will be approved, the director of the state program said Monday.
The state is already planning at least 192 dispensaries, 60 cultivation facilities, 86 manufacturing facilities and two testing facilities. But Lyndall Fraker, medical marijuana program director for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, told hundreds of people attending a St. Louis conference that the state will do whatever is necessary to meet demand.
"We certainly want to make sure patient needs are provided for," Fraker said.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment in November allowing marijuana use for patients with cancer, Parkinson's disease and other serious illnesses, as well as for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Missouri joins 32 other states that allow medical marijuana.
Coming late to the game means Missouri can benefit by using what has worked elsewhere — and avoid their pitfalls.
"If we do this right, we can have the best medical marijuana program in the nation," Fraker said.
The burgeoning industry is showing signs of strong support. Already, Fraker said, more than 450 potential licensees have applied even though it'll be months before licenses are awarded and application fees are non-refundable.
Many of those potential licensees attended the two-day conference in St. Louis that began Monday. Among them was David LeGrand, 63, who hopes to start a cultivation business on land near the southeastern Missouri town of Jackson.
"I own a farm. My sons-in-law are part of this so I've got plenty of land and plenty of help," LeGrand said.
He also has incentive beyond making money. Both he and his wife suffer from arthritis.
"I'm hoping it would help us and help other people, too," LeGrand said.
Tracy Livingston, 51, of Warren County, wants to open a dispensary. She's worried that local governments might interfere because some elected officials oppose marijuana.
"They want to make sure we're not bringing a negative element into the community," Livingston said.
The state constitution doesn't allow local government the right to stop a medical marijuana facility, though local officials can set hours of operation and take other steps that could impact marijuana-related businesses.
"They can make it not easy for us," Livingston said.
The health department estimates that the sale of medical marijuana will begin in January. The state is still formulating rules and regulations.
Fraker said Missouri is preparing for up to 180,000 people applying for medical marijuana cards. He said Arizona, with a population slightly larger than Missouri, issued 190,000 cards once medical marijuana was approved there.
Michael Correia of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a Washington-based lobbyist group, told the conference that he has seen a huge change in the political landscape in the past six years. He called support for marijuana a "generational issue," not a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue.
"Younger people get it," he said.