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Marijuana

Marijuana plants grow in a tomato greenhouse being renovated to grow pot in Canada on Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

It’s opening day in Missouri.

Tuesday is the first day a Missouri physician may certify a patient to use marijuana for medical reasons, as well as the first day business hopefuls can get hold of an application to grow or sell the drug.

Sales of various forms of the products are to start early next year.

“We knew June 4 was going to be a very important day,” Jack Cardetti, a spokesman with the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, said Monday. “We’re really excited that tomorrow they’re going to have applications in hand.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the department tasked with regulating the medical marijuana industry, published applications for patients and potential business owners for the first time Tuesday, a move many have been waiting for since state voters approved Amendment 2 in November.

The amendment made Missouri the 33rd state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, starting a stampede of business owners looking to capitalize on the new market. Sales are expected to top $100 million by 2025. Tax proceeds and licensing fees are to go to a new veterans health care fund, and are expected to generate about $20 million a year.

The state plans to keep identities of applicants secret. The Post-Dispatch has sued the state to release the names; the case is pending.

Many applicants have been long at work on their business plans, anticipating a competitive process to gain entry to the regulated industry. DHSS will accept business applications Aug. 3 through 17.

Missouri is required by law to approve at least 60 commercial growers, 86 facilities that manufacture marijuana-infused products and 192 dispensary licenses — 24 dispensaries for each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

As for patients, once they have a doctor’s certification that they meet the state’s qualifying conditions, they have 30 days to apply to the state and pay a $25 fee. DHSS could approve medical marijuana patients as early as July 4.

As of Tuesday, medical marijuana patients also may apply to grow a limited number of plants at home. Caregivers for medical marijuana patients also must apply for a permit.

If a physician is unwilling to certify a patient or caregiver, they can seek certification from one of several facilities setting up shop in Missouri, said Mimi Vo, a St. Louis physician with Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association.

Missouri has moved more quickly than other states that have legalized marijuana, Cardetti said. For example, Arkansas approved its first medical marijuana dispensary last month after legalizing the drug in 2016.

Missouri’s efficiency is due in part to its ability to study marijuana programs in other states, Cardetti said, and the fact that Amendment 2 sets strict deadlines for DHSS to establish regulations.

The state was required to complete its regulations by June 4. DHSS posted its final rules Friday, reflecting changes made since publishing draft versions beginning in March. DHSS received more than 500 comments in feedback.

“They’ve been remarkably open and receptive to suggestions throughout this process,” said Dan Viets, a longtime medical marijuana advocate who helped write Amendment 2 and heads the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association.

The rules and applications aren’t permanent. They will remain in effect through February, when they can be changed as needed. The department will accept further public comment on the rules in July and hold a public hearing.

Mitch Greene, with Feel State, a group hoping to open five dispensaries across central and southern Missouri, said he was generally happy with the finished rules.

“Are there things we would like to see change? Maybe, but we’re going to work within the parameters we’ve been given,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’ve developed a business plan that we feel very confident in.”

Greene said his group is waiting on municipal governments to finalize regulations on medical marijuana businesses before deciding where it wants to set up shop. Localities cannot prohibit medical marijuana businesses, but they can establish zoning rules and set other conditions.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this report included the wrong acronym for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. This version has been corrected.  

Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.