Coronavirus thwarts legalization efforts in Missouri, but medical marijuana remains on track

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Efforts to put recreational marijuana on the ballot in Missouri were suspended Wednesday because of the coronavirus, but the state says it still hopes to meet its goal of having medical marijuana available by this summer.

“We had hoped that it might be possible to persuade the state of Missouri to allow online signature gathering under the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in this spring,” said Dan Viets, coordinator for Missouri NORML.

“However, that has not proven to be an option, and there does not appear to be any other path to gathering the 170,000 valid signatures we would require prior to the deadline in early May.”

The coronavirus pandemic hit just about the time the new multi-million dollar medical marijuana industry was trying to get off ground in Missouri.

More than 300 cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries were all awarded licenses shortly before the pandemic. Voters approved marijuana for medical use in 2018.

This is the phase when all these facilities are trying to get permits and begin construction or renovation. They also need the state to do final site visits before they can begin operations.

Clovr Cannabis will manufacture infused medical marijuana products inside a 160,000-square-foot warehouse in Kansas City. They were the first manufacturer to get a building permit in Kansas City a couple weeks ago.

“Now we can move forward. We can get walls up, electrical and plumbing in place. We can get our kitchens in place and get rolling,” said Bethanie White, Clovr’s marketing director.

They’ll of course need medical marijuana to extract that cannabis oil. The state’s 60 cultivation facilities received their licenses first.

Approximately 40 employees with the Department of Health and Human Services section devoted to medical marijuana are working from home and helping medical marijuana facilities, which have been deemed essential, get ready to operate.

“We’re verifying that people are who they say they are and that they are doing what they said they were going to do based on their application process,” said Lyndall Fraker, DHSS director for medical marijuana regulation. “So we are able to do a lot of that from the computer.”

His office hasn’t had to figure out if it will be able to make final site visits under the stay-at-home order since it hasn’t had any requests for them yet.

Once cultivators are ready to plant it will take about 90 days for the marijuana to grow.

“That’s our goal, to make sure that we are up and ready. When the flower is here, we need to be here and prepared to start manufacturing that,” White said.

Fraker said the biggest challenge he sees right now amidst the pandemic is setting up and operating testing labs for medical marijuana products before they head to dispensaries.

More than 40,000 Missourians already have medical marijuana cards, including at least 5,000 who received them in the past month.

Physicians are conducting examinations and issuing them through tele-health appointments.

The Missouri House actually passed a bill requiring in-person examinations on one of the final days it was in session. But the Senate never had a chance to take it up before session was suspended because of the coronavirus.

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