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As Missouri preps for medical marijuana, campaign contributions flow to group backing governor

As Missouri preps for medical marijuana, campaign contributions flow to group backing governor

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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)

JEFFERSON CITY — A political action committee linked to Gov. Mike Parson has collected at least $15,000 in campaign contributions from a group seeking to open a medical marijuana growing facility.

Although there is nothing illegal about the contributions, they came at a time when the Republican governor’s administration is in the midst of writing rules and regulations that will govern the fledgling industry, raising questions about whether the donations were designed to influence the process or the awarding of licenses for the cultivation, distribution and sale of medical pot.

A spokesman for the Uniting Missouri PAC told the Post-Dispatch he has no problem with the contributions.

“As a rule, we’re pleased to take the support of everyone. We’ve raised money from a vast cross-section of Missourians,” said John Hancock, former executive of the Missouri Republican Party. “I don’t find it troublesome.”

The contributions to Parson’s Uniting Missouri PAC came on March 4. They include $5,000 from Blonie Dudney, a St. Louis eye doctor who is heading a newly formed medical marijuana company called Artemis Therapeutics.

The other $5,000 contributions are from JoAnn’s Greenhouse, a Perryville retail plant grower and distributor, and Richard Buchheit, the son of the greenhouse owners.

Dudney said he began scoping out potential locations more than a year ago, before one of his partners, Jason Buchheit, alerted him to his aunt and uncle’s commercial greenhouse in Perryville.

“They were interested in at least trying to explore the opportunity to cultivate medical cannabis,” Dudney said. “My interest is in the science of it. That fits my background very well.”

He said the investor group comprises five St. Louis-area physicians who are interested in using cannabis to treat illnesses.

They also are partnering with Mid-America Capital, an investment firm run by Jim and John Muller, who have experience in cultivation and retail operations in Nevada and California.

Missouri voters legalized medical marijuana in November, starting a stampede of business owners looking to capitalize on the new market.

By 2025, sales of the various forms of the product are expected to top $100 million.

Under the new law, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is required to grant at least 24 dispensary licenses in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts, for a total of 192.

The law also calls for the state to license 60 growers and 86 processing facilities.

The other applicants are not known because the state will not release their names. The Post-Dispatch has filed a lawsuit alleging the state is violating the Sunshine Law.

Businesses have been able to pre-file their applications and pay their fees since earlier this year, but Dudney said he is waiting until the actual application period opens in August.

“Honestly, we’re using that money for attorney’s fees, blueprints, retrofits that need to be done. We’re trying to save all the money we can,” said Dudney. He is the son-in-law of St. Louis defense attorney Scott Rosenblum, who has represented a range of high profile clients, including former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Dudney said the greenhouse currently is growing flowers and other commercial plants and has no marijuana growing at this time.

The state has put safeguards in place designed to reduce the possibility of politics playing a role in the selection of growers.

For example, the rules call for names and other identifying information to be separated from an application during the scoring period.

Final scoring to determine which companies have won the licenses is scheduled by the end of 2019. If there is a tie in the scoring, the winner would be picked by a lottery system.

Dudney did not address why he and others associated with the start-up had contributed money to the PAC.

Hancock said the contributions likely came after the host of a fundraiser in Cape Girardeau invited the group to the event.

“Typically we do events all around the state. I’m not particularly familiar with these folks,” Hancock said.

Uniting Missouri was formed soon after Parson was sworn in as governor on June 1. The former lieutenant governor was elevated to the post after Greitens resigned.

In its most recent report, the account had collected more than $2.3 million as of April 1.

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