INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — If you live in Missouri and have a medical marijuana card, you can legally buy up to four ounces at dispensaries. There’s also another option for buying medical marijuana.
There’s really nothing normal about shopping for marijuana.
Welcome to “the underground.” It’s a once a month farmers market where marijuana growers and manufacturers peddle their products to pot enthusiasts.
John Mueller, CEO of Greenlight Dispensary in Independence, Missouri, which hosts the event, has figured out a novel way to make money in Missouri’s hyper competitive marijuana market.
“We allow cultivators and growers to come in and communicate directly with the patients,” he said.
That’s right, they call them patients, after all it’s medical marijuana.
There are 177,000 Missourians who have medical marijuana licenses, which are pretty easy to get if you are 18 or older.
The average patient spends between $50 to $150 each month at one of now 200 dispensaries. All those sales have pumped more than 13 million in tax dollars into state coffers.
That’s a big chunk of change, particularly when you consider it only represents about 30% of the marijuana sold in the state. Experts said the vast majority of pot, 70%, is still peddled on the black market.
“Missouri’s got a billion dollars in black market that’s currently being sold today,” Mueller said.
Even his own customers like Andrew Ball acknowledge the black market provides something dispensaries can’t.
“You can go get an ounce of weed from the streets for $150 or you can come to a dispensary and your paying double that, $250, $300, up to $400 for an ounce,” Ball said. “It’s kind of ridiculous.”
So why would anyone want to own a business that has to compete with unregulated sellers who undercut your prices and don’t pay any taxes?
The answer is simple. You can still make money. You don’t have to worry about getting arrested.
They are banking on that one day soon marijuana will be legal for every adult and places like “the underground” will be posed to take advantage of a vast market place of buyers.
Corey Rimmel owners Feel State and like everyone FOX4 met in the dispensary business, he’s no novice. He’d worked in dispensaries in California and Colorado before moving back home to Missouri.
“I mean every single month, we’re increasing sales at both stores,” he said.
He acknowledges that it’s an industry full of challenges. For starters, credit card companies won’t accept marijuana transactions and most banks won’t allow a dispensary to open an account. That’s because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. That’s not all.
“We can’t market or do advertisements on Facebook or Instagram,” Rimmel said.
Plus dispensaries can be a prime target of thieves.
Every dispensary FOX4 visited had a security guard. Customers can’t step in the door unless they show their license and their medical marijuana card. It all gets carefully recorded, so that the state knows exactly how much each person is buying (no more than four ounces a month) and how much each store is selling.
Customers tell FOX4 they have more trust in marijuana that’s federally regulated.
“It’s a safer alternative and you feel good when you walk out knowing that you are part of this project that they’re building on,” James Kaske said.
Plus dispensaries include “bud tenders” who help customers pick the right product for whatever ails them.
“A lot of people are first time consumers or haven’t consumed in 20 to 30 years, so their perception on cannabis still has the stigma from the 70s and 80s,” Rimmel said.
That stigma explains why some people FOX4 tried to interview didn’t want their face on camera but “bud tenders” not only help dispel the stigma but give you tips on everything from flavors to potency.
“Our best advice is just to experiment with multiple different varieties of cannabis and different ingestion methods , different ratios of CBD and THC and you know , document your experiences,” Rimmel said.
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