Metro cannabis clinic closes amid concerns about medical marijuana law implementation

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Medical marijuana is inching closer to being fully implemented in Missouri. The state's now approved cultivation licenses and in the coming days will announce who's getting manufacturing and dispensary licenses. But some say problems are plaguing the process.

From the moment medical marijuana became Missouri law, patient families were thrilled.

"I always have hope. You have to. To get up in the morning and try something else and just see what's going to work," parent Megan Hull told FOX4 in November 2018.

But as Missouri has slowly adopted the provisions set out in Article XIV of the state constitution, there have been bumps in the road.

"We're all brand new at this and all learning the new law and trying to do our best to ensure that it's implemented the right way," said Joani Harshman of the Harshman Law Firm in Kansas City.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is charged with oversight and enforcement of the medical marijuana law. So far, it's issued more than 26,000 patient cards, another 8600 cards for patient and caregiver cultivators.
But some patients with those cards are already having challenges in having medical marijuana with them.

"I understand why it's confusing," Harshman said.

The very first section of the new medical marijuana law says it is to "protect patients, caregivers and physicians from civil and criminal penalties." Patients with an ID card can legally have up to a 60-day supply, or eight ounces total, even without dispensaries open for business here.

"As long as you're within your limits, you should not face any sort of criminal prosecution. The department and rules have their own consequences for being outside the allowed limit for your patient ID card," said Harshman.

In fact last month, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association issued a letter insisting "officers should not ask where marijuana was obtained or request a receipt."

But attorneys and at least one business, say there are still concerns about how the the state as a whole is enforcing the law.

One Kansas City company, The Green Clinics, in the River Market, announced New Year's Eve that's why it's now permanently closing. In a Facebook post, the company shared, "Due to other providers failing to follow Article XIV and its associated rules, and the DHSS's failure to enforce the law, The Green Clinics will close effective immediately." It also indicated patient cards previously issued at their facility are still valid.

"I think there's a shortfall in the way the law has been implemented and education that should be going into advising, educating the judicial system," Harshman said.

It's process many hope will smooth out as dispensaries start to open for business in 2020.

Some big law enforcement agencies say they've expanded training and if they suspect someone is using marijuana, they now ask for a patient ID card first. You can still get in trouble for selling marijuana, having more than you're allowed or other things, like driving under the influence. And there are still many more questions that will need addressing as this all goes into effect in the new year.

In response to concerns about the law's implementation and enforcement the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services issued the following statement:

"DHSS has limited authority over physicians and operates under the mandates of Article XIV, which specifies that we must approve physician certifications from doctors licensed and in good standing under Missouri law. The status of physician licenses is determined solely by the Board of Registration for the Healing Arts, which is not within DHSS. Regarding issuance of medical marijuana licensing, we are tasked with carefully reviewing the applications we receive for compliance with Article XIV and the program’s rules and have issued licenses according to the law."

Some advocates are hoping state lawmakers will work to further solidify the patient protections and enforcement abilities of Article XIV in the upcoming legislative session.

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