JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s fledgling medical marijuana program survived a court challenge Monday.
Acting on a lawsuit brought by a company that failed to win one of the licenses offered by the state to grow pot, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce said the rules limiting how many companies can grow and sell the product are appropriate and will protect patient safety.
“The department’s regulations fall squarely within its constitutional delegation of authority,” Joyce wrote.
The Sarcoxie family that brought the suit plans to appeal.
“I think there are strong points to consider on appeal,” said Jefferson City attorney Joseph Bednar.
Joyce rejected the entire lawsuit, including a complaint about caps that limit the number of facilities that won licenses from the state. Those limits, Joyce wrote, are based on population data can be lifted if the need arises.
The lawsuit was filed by the Callicoat family last year after state regulators rejected their application to grow medical marijuana as part of a voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana use.
The family said the 60-license limit on cultivation facilities violated the family’s constitutional “right to farm.”
The family had planned to open a cultivation facility called the Sarcoxie Nursery in the southwest Missouri town of 1,300.
They were among an estimated 500 companies vying for the licenses.
The lawsuit asked the court to declare the limits unconstitutional, and challenged the state’s “geographical bonuses,” which gave more points to businesses in high-unemployment ZIP codes.
But Joyce, in her 37-page decision, said the rules protect the public and do not conflict with the state’s right to farm law.
“The right to farm does not apply to the cultivation of marijuana,” Joyce said.
The Department of Health and Senior Services, which created the regulatory framework, praised the decision.
“We are pleased that our rules and decision have been affirmed by the court, and we hope that those who have been using this case in an attempt to discredit the state’s medical marijuana program will now realize the program has been designed to implement Article XIV fairly and lawfully,” said DHSS spokeswoman Lisa Cox.
The lawsuit is among hundreds of appeals filed against the state by companies that did not win licenses.
The department is licensing 192 dispensaries statewide — 24 in each of the state’s congressional districts — to sell marijuana legally to Missourians with a valid medical marijuana patient card.
Missouri received at least 1,163 dispensary applications, making it the most competitive field for licenses to enter the fledgling industry, which is expected to top more than $100 million in sales by 2025.
Dr. Paul Callicoat, a retired cardiologist and principal of Sarcoxie Nursery, called the decision “deeply disappointing.”
“We continue to stand on the side of patients, veterans and the diverse group of small business women and men who seek to participate in our state’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry,” Callicoat said.
He added the legal wrangling over the rules has been unfortunate.
“We have always believed that the millions of dollars in medical marijuana fees being used by the state to fight applicants would be better spent on supporting our war heroes and veterans, especially now with COVID-19 ravaging veterans homes across Missouri,” Callicoat said.
Dispensaries are beginning to open more than two years after voters gave the OK for the state to establish a regulatory system. A percentage of the sales will benefit military veterans.