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Missouri’s Rapid Transition to Recreational Marijuana Pays Off  Quick Implementation Bodes Well for Business and Consumers 

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Above image credit: Recreational marijuana sales are already taking off in Missouri. (Emily Woodring | Flatland)
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6 minute read

Sales of recreational marijuana are off to a flying start in Missouri.  

Recreational marijuana sales totaled $8.5 million across the state during the first three days ending on Sunday, according to unofficial numbers from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). That was in addition to the $4.1 million in medical marijuana sales the same weekend. 

The Amendment 3 ballot initiative (which legalized adult-use marijuana in November) favored existing medical operators by promising easy access to the recreational market. Some folks were against it, but the plan to quickly offer legal sales stands to benefit the state.  

Missouri marijuana businesses are poised to profit from an expanded market, consumers will have access to regulated products and the state will start to see the expected tax revenue.  

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Ease of Operations 

Amendment 3 passed with 53% of the popular vote in November 2022. As stipulated in the language, existing medical cultivators, dispensaries and manufacturers could transition to a comprehensive license (both medical and adult-use) just months after the amendment took effect.  

On Feb. 3, 196 dispensaries across the state were approved to operate with comprehensive licenses.  

The existing medical dispensaries had next to nothing to change for the transition. 

Carl Werner hails from Kansas City but is partner at an established cannabis law firm based in Colorado with clients across the country, Vicente Sederberg. He has taken special interest in Missouri’s legalization process and rules. 

“The department was not trying to complicate people’s lives with conversion from medical to adult use license types,” Werner said. “The conversion application is, in fact, so simple I’ve touched very few of them.”  

Current rules, put in place by the DHSS, hardly change operational procedures for comprehensive license holders. In fact, most of the process is simplified. 

Now, dispensaries can sell larger quantities at a time and have more transactions with an expedited system.  

“On the first day of adult use sales, pretty much, it’s going to be the same process for medical patients,” said Chris Issinghoff, the director of quality operations at Elevate Missouri. 

At any of Elevate’s three dispensary locations, folks can enter, hand over their government-issued IDs to the front desk, and if they are medical patients, their medical card as well.  

Then, a budtender will escort the patient/customer from the lobby into the shop, help them find the best product for their needs and then ring them out.  

Issinghoff doesn’t see adult-use marijuana as a “recreational” drug, even though many tend to use the terms interchangeably. To Issinghoff, a long-time user of the drug to treat arthritis pain, adult-use regulations allow for the sale of marijuana as an over-the-counter medicine.   

It’s important to him that customers, medical patients or not, are engaged with budtenders to find the best product for their needs.  

Medical patients will have their patient cards scanned at the register to ensure their purchase is within the six-ounce-per-30-days limit. 

Customers without a medical card will simply make their purchase using either cash or debit cards. Recreational consumers are limited to purchases of three ounces at a time. 

The biggest concern is to ensure the stores have enough supply to serve the increased demand.  

“That’s focus number one,” Issinghoff said. “Focus number two, would be to expedite the experience here.” 

A man in a plaid shirt sits in front of a garage door with green, ambient light coming from the left side.
Chris Issinghoff has worked in the marijuana industry since 2009 and is excited for Missouri’s entry to the adult-use market. (Emily Woodring | Flatland)

Under the medical rules, dispensaries had to maintain a one-to-one ratio of budtenders to patients. Under a comprehensive license, one budtender can tend to up to three customers at a time, which will ease the flow of operations.  

The product for medical and recreational customers is the same, but the two are taxed differently, so budtenders will have to sign into the correct digital register when completing a transaction with a customer. 

Issinghoff said dispensaries are obligated to ensure medical patients have access to products.  

“We’ll retain some of the inventory that we get each time, and if we sell out on the sales floor, then what is retained will be for medical patients only until we get new stock in,” Issinghoff explained.  

Consumer Benefits  

Andrew Livingston analyzes marijuana economics across the country as the director of economics and research at Vicente Sederberg. From his perspective, Missouri’s quick transition to adult-use sales bodes well for consumers.  

“Because we’re going to be licensing businesses relatively simply in Missouri, and that transition is going to be efficient, competition is going to come out a lot sooner than in some other markets,” Livingston said. “That competition is going to result in a quicker decline in retail prices, and that’s going to be to the benefit of consumers.”  

Livingston expects Missouri prices to decline in six months to a year from now as companies bring their operations to scale. After just one year, he expects market reports from the Show-Me State to resemble the second or third year of states with a slower rollout.  

Based on the size of its medical market and its quick turnaround, Livingston said Missouri is most comparable to Arizona, who legalized adult use in 2020 and had its first sales in early 2021.  

Other states, such as New York, had a slower rollout of licenses and encouraged the illicit market to proliferate. The approach in Arizona and Missouri avoids that scenario.  

“In Missouri, we’ll see consumers transition over, that also means that the regulated market is going to be able to capture those consumers more effectively and efficiently, meaning that more sales are going to run through the regulated market,” Livingston said. 

The sooner a state has regulated sales, the sooner it can see the tax revenue.  

Missouri’s 6% adult-use tax is modest compared to other legal states — some of which levy taxes upwards of 20% on marijuana. Even so, ballot language for Amendment 3 predicted $40.8 million annually in state tax revenue and $13.8 million in local tax revenue for cities and municipalities who choose to levy an optional 3% local tax.  

Kansas City and many of its surrounding areas are scheduling votes on the additional tax in April.  

The 6% state tax will fund the operations of the regulating department, cover the cost of marijuana-related expungements, and support the Missouri Veterans Commission, public defenders and drug addiction treatment organizations.  

Amendment 3 does not dictate the use of the optional 3% local tax. Kansas City plans to give the local tax revenue (if approved by voters) to the health department for homelessness and violence prevention programs and city clean-up.  

“I think Missouri will be able to effectively get consumers into those regulated storefronts … and paying taxes to the state,” Livingston said.  

Forging Ahead 

Missouri has a lot to figure out as it grows into its recreational program.  

For starters, it’s currently working under emergency rules issued by the DHSS. 

The department filed proposed rules with the Secretary of State on Jan. 20. The rules will get a public hearing and finalization before they go into effect at the beginning of August when the emergency rules expire.  

Most of the rules are straightforward, but Missouri marijuana brands are raising their eyebrows at proposed rules around the packaging and marketing of products.  

In an effort to keep the products from being attractive to children, these rules would restrict the number of colors on packaging, the size of logos and the permissible information on the packaging.  

“The new (rules), if they are enacted how they are proposed, is going to vastly change this industry,” Issinghoff said. 

The rules are not yet final, and folks have a chance to submit their concerns to the department. Issinghoff at Elevate suggests anyone with a stake in the business speak up before Feb. 20 when the comment period ends. 

He hopes that the rules won’t go through as they are currently written, but said Elevate is preparing for a future with minimalist labeling. 

Werner with Vicente Sederberg said these rules are not uncommon, particularly in midwestern and southern states that have legalized marijuana.  

“A watermelon-shaped gummy could be attractive to children, but I also happen to like watermelon — many adults do,” Werner said. “It’s just not a very easy line to draw, and it’s hard to blame either regulators or businesses for trying to implement these rules.”  

A man in a blue Royals polo and ball cap smiles.
Carl Werner helps marijuana companies in Missouri and across the country to expand and navigate the legal framework. (Screenshot)

Already licensed medical facilities had a head start in the recreational field, but Werner believes in a year or so, as more licenses are awarded, there will be space in the market.  

“Without a doubt, the legalization of adult-use will increase aggregate demand in Missouri,” Werner said. “I think there will be some room for the issuance of new dispensary licenses, in particular, just because I think that better coverage across the state is necessary.” 

Most of the existing cultivators will be able to expand to meet immediate wholesale demands. As the recreational market expands, Werner said there will be a need for more testing laboratories and dispensaries, especially in rural areas of the state. 

On a different front, police departments across Missouri recognize gaps in marijuana-related education and enforcement. 

Under Amendment 3, driving while under the influence of marijuana remains illegal. 

Kansas City Police Department Captain Corey Carlisle said folks need to plan when consuming marijuana. Call a ride and avoid a DUI or crash.  

But there are gaps in enforcement too.  

Officers don’t have an in-the-field test for marijuana consumption, like a breathalyzer measures blood alcohol content.  

“When we’re looking for the impairment aspect of it, when we’re making contact with individuals who are under the influence of marijuana, one of the best indicators is what we smell,” Carlisle said.  

Carlisle’s best advice to Missourians: “If you’re going to consume marijuana, just don’t drive.” 

Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Emily Woodring is a multimedia producer at Kansas City PBS.

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