Missouri added millions to its coffers over the weekend thanks to an influx of nearly 2,000 applications to open marijuana businesses in the state.
The state raked in a total of more than $13 million in fees from 2,163 marijuana business applications filed by a deadline of 4:30 p.m. Monday. More than 1,200 applications were submitted the final three days, including more than 800 applications in the last 24 hours.
But there are would-be applicants who say the state’s online portal wouldn’t accept their submissions because of technical glitches with the system. The submission was the final step for applicants who spent months preparing pages of documents covering minute details of their business plans. Some groups paid thousands in application fees months in advance.
“I know that 2,100 people were able to do it (submit applications) — I can’t explain how they were, I just know that we were not,” said Cory Elliott, who tried Monday to submit applications for the West End Clinic, a St. Louis methadone clinic among 200 St. Louis groups applying to open pot shops or growing operations in the area.
The Department of Health and Senior Services, the agency tasked with regulating the industry, said it has received similar complaints but could not confirm how many.
“We will be reviewing claims on a case-by-case basis from individuals who have informed us that they believe that a technological error with our system kept them from submitting their application by the final deadline,” Lyndall Fraker, director of the state’s medical marijuana program, said in a written statement. “We will be reviewing them to verify whether this was the case.”
Last week, the department extended the application deadline to Monday afternoon from Saturday night so that it could have employees on hand to help applicants in real time.
A handful of more than 30 applicants contacted by the Post-Dispatch said Wednesday they were able to file their applications in time but did experience varying technical issues with the online filing portal. Others said they, like Elliott, could not file in time because of technical issues but declined to comment.
Elliott sent the Post-Dispatch a screenshot of an error message she said she received when she tried to pay about $30,000 in application fees after completing dozens of application worksheets. Elliott tried using three different computers to resolve the issue and followed directions she received from the state’s help hotline for marijuana business applicants, she said.
The West End Clinic had already prepaid $17,000 in fees but was trying to pay for additional dispensary applications, Elliott said. The additional fees would generate more money for the state, and the black-owned company has said it will serve low-income patients in poorer neighborhoods.
“I want to find a way that the clinic can win in this and the state can win in this,” she said. “Because this is really good for Missouri.”
Elliott otherwise praised the Department of Health and Senior Service’s administering of Missouri’s nascent medical marijuana industry. But the West End Clinic could consider legal action if the state does not allow it to reapply.
“If they say no, I’m going to recommend they find out what the appeal process is and go forward with that,” she said.
Fees for oversight
Applications turned in over the weekend brought in more than $9 million in fees to the state — up from $4 million that had been collected as of last week.
The money, after paying for the state’s expenses to administer and regulate Missouri’s medical marijuana industry, is designated for a newly created veterans health care fund.
But Veterans Commission Director Randy Watson said he expects most of the $13 million will go toward administering and regulating the state’s medical marijuana industry.
Rather, Watson is looking forward to tax proceeds from marijuana sales, 4% of which will go toward the veterans health care fund. Those proceeds are expected to amount to about $20 million per year.
Marijuana sales are expected to start early next year, after Missouri reviews and awards licenses to marijuana businesses. According to the constitutional amendment voters approved in November that legalized marijuana for medical use, Missouri has 150 days to approve or deny a marijuana business application. That means licenses most likely will be awarded in December.
Not all applicants will win a license to enter the industry, which is expected to top more than $100 million in annual sales by 2025.
Missouri is required by law to approve at least 10 testing facilities, 60 commercial growers, 86 facilities that make marijuana-infused products and 192 dispensaries — 24 dispensaries for each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.
A Nevada-based group that oversaw marijuana business licenses there will score applicants for Missouri’s medical marijuana industry.
A breakdown of marijuana business applications by location and facility type will be publicly available in the coming weeks, according to DHSS.