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Future Marijuana industry draws potential growers

Products that appear to be marijuana are displayed in tamper resistant display cases on Monday, March 11, 2019, at the MOCANN - BIZCON Expo at Union Station. Jahabow, a company based in Owensville, Mo., makes the cases for many businesses such as jewelry companies and pawn shops where secure display cases are needed. The balls that appear to be marijuana are actually green colored cotton balls. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

A retired cardiologist. An attorney with a high-profile Clayton law firm. An Arnold city councilman. Two Missouri hemp growers that own high-tech greenhouses. Large multi-state marijuana sellers from outside Missouri.

They are among the more than 500 names on applications to sell marijuana in Missouri released to the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday afternoon by state officials. Missouri will no longer keep secret the names of those who want to sell marijuana and the cities in which they want to open up shop, after a Cole County judge sided with the Post-Dispatch in a lawsuit challenging the state’s authority to keep the records closed.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said Tuesday that the department would not appeal a Cole County judge’s order to release the records. The department emailed to the Post-Dispatch a spreadsheet with the names of those who pre-filed applications to open more than 500 businesses that would grow marijuana, make infused products and sell the drug at locations across the state.

Williams and his department are in charge of regulating an industry expected to top $100 million in sales by 2025. Missouri has raked in more than $3.9 million in fees from applicants, ahead of accepting formal applications on Aug. 3. The state expects to license businesses by the end of the year.

Many applicants have been long at work on their business plans, anticipating a competitive process to gain entry to the regulated industry. DHSS released formal application forms June 4 and will accept business applications Aug. 3-17. The state expects to start licensing businesses in December. Applicants need hundreds of thousands in cash and must describe details of their business plans, including odor control, security and economic impact. Companies have retained lobbyists as the application process intensifies.

The state has said it will use a blind scoring process to assess the applications. But because of the competition associated with the burgeoning industry, lawsuits could follow if the state rejects licenses. Some applicants have concerns the licensing won’t be equitable — women and minority business owners, for example, have said they’re concerned that Missouri’s marijuana industry will be disproportionately white and male, as it has been nationwide. Locals have expressed concerns that marijuana industry insiders from other states could cut locals out of a large share of the market, despite state law requiring that at least half of any state-approved marijuana business be owned by Missouri residents.

A first look at the records released Tuesday show applicants want to open 175 businesses across the St. Louis metro area. 

Two groups among the applicants vying for the highest numbers of licenses already grow a form of the cannabis plant: hemp, marijuana’s botanical cousin. Noah’s Arc Foundation and Beleaf Medical are the only two companies licensed by Missouri to grow the plant for production of CBD, a non-high-inducing ingredient that is marketed as a medical treatment.

Each group applied for 11 licenses at their locations in Chesterfield and Earth City. Both grow the plant in large, high-tech greenhouses — the type of facilities that most commercial marijuana growers prefer, and that can cost more than $1 million to build.

There aren’t only locals applying to open marijuana businesses in Missouri — there are at least nine representatives of businesses from outside of the state listed in the records.

The groups from outside Missouri applying for licensed marijuana operations come from Kansas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Arizona and Tennessee. Altogether, they’re applying for at least 25 licenses to grow or sell marijuana. One of them, Curaleaf, a Massachusetts-based giant in the industry, wants to open up shop in eight locations across Missouri.

A local group, MoFarma 21, also wants to open eight locations around Kansas City — and it’s run by a doctor: Paul Callicoat, a retired cardiologist in Seneca. 

One of the business applicants is a local government official — state law allows local governments to set zoning ordinances, odor control and other requirements for state-approved marijuana businesses applying for permits.

Arnold Councilman Jason Fulbright wants to open two dispensaries, a growing operation and a facility that makes marijuana-infused products in Pevely and Imperial. He spoke to the Post-Dispatch about his plans at a marijuana conference in St. Louis in March.

Other St. Louisans wanting to grow or sell marijuana include Matthew David Fry — a lawyer with the Clayton law firm helmed by high-profile defense attorney Scott Rosenblum. Fry, representing a business named Green Care, is applying to grow marijuana in Hillsdale and sell it in St. Louis.

Bradford Goette, a board member of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, wants to open a marijuana-infused products manufacturer in Fenton and five dispensaries in Fenton, Festus, St. Peters, Troy and Cape Girardeau.

Missouri became the 33rd state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes after 65% of voters in November approved Amendment 2, starting a stampede of business owners looking to capitalize on the new market. Sales of the various forms of the products are to start early next year. Tax proceeds and licensing fees are supposed to go into a new veterans’ health care fund, and are expected to generate about $20 million a year.

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

The St. Louis metro area should see at least 48 dispensaries. Two congressional districts cover St. Louis and St. Louis County and parts of St. Charles and Jefferson counties. Other Missouri counties in the metro area will likely get some of the dispensaries allocated to two districts that stretch west to Jefferson City and south to the state border.

Pre-filed application fees for medical marijuana businesses

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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.