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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Recreational marijuana becomes legal in Missouri on Friday

Marijuana plants about 7 to 10 days away from harvesting grow at Greenlight Dispensary's cultivation plant in Kansas City, Miss.   (Jill Toyoshiba/Kansas City Star)
By Daniel Neman St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Adult-use, recreational cannabis can be sold in Missouri dispensaries beginning Friday, giving consumers an unexpected boost to their weekend plans.

Expectations throughout the industry had been that the licenses required to sell non-medical cannabis would not be issued by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services until Monday.

But the department threw a curve Thursday afternoon, announcing that it would issue licenses on Friday to the dispensaries that qualified for them. As soon as a dispensary receives its license, it can begin selling marijuana to anyone older than 21.

Area dispensaries said they are ready for the expected crowds.

“There was an inkling from the state that it could have the potential to go early on Friday,” said Laurie Gregory, chief marketing officer of Good Day Farm, an Arkansas-based grower, manufacturer and dispensary with several area locations.

“It’s been day by day and moment by moment,” she said. “We’re waiting, we’re prepping, we’re ready.”

Recreational-use marijuana will initially be sold only at already-existing medical-use dispensaries. State health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said at least 170 of these dispensaries statewide are eligible for licenses Friday, which will be given to any store in good standing with the department.

“Good standing means the license is not suspended, revoked, or otherwise inactive at the time the request is made,” she said.

Greenlight dispensaries, with 15 locations across the state, have been spending about $7 million or $8 million on improvements “to make sure we can efficiently handle the adult-use consumer” and not isolate the medical-marijuana patients that built its business, said CEO John Mueller.

New pickup windows have been installed in the lobbies and separate lines will be established to handle the returning medical marijuana patients.

And for the stores that have drive-thru windows, Mueller said, “we’re putting in new speaker boxes, Chick-fil-A style.”

The company has added 80 employees to handle the increased business. About half of them will staff the dispensaries, and the other half are on the cultivation and production side of the business. Many cannabis companies grow and process their own marijuana, turning some of it into edibles and vape pens in their own facilities.

Recreational-use cannabis became legal when voters passed Amendment 3 last November, allowing non-medical users to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and medical users to possess up to 6 ounces.

“I think the first week will be a little chaotic,” Mueller said. “I think you’ll see lines just to be among the first consumers. A lot of people in Missouri, a heavily conservative state, have been waiting a long time for this.”

Customers have been getting impatient. Dan Pettigrew, co-founder of Black-owned Viola Brands, said that nine out of 10 visitors to the new ViolaSTL dispensary in Downtown West have come in to buy as recreational customers.

When the dispensaries — another is set to open Monday on the Cherokee Street corridor — receive their licenses to sell adult-use cannabis, Pettigrew said he expects sales to increase by a factor of 10.

“We think, for a number of reasons, sales will increase more in urban markets than rural markets,” Pettigrew said.

Greenlight’s Mueller said he is also expecting sales to soar. While medical use sales are now $40 million per month in Missouri, he thinks the state will soon see monthly sales of $80 million or even $100 million.

With recreational-use marijuana now legal, many of the companies expect it will take a big bite out of the still-thriving illegal market. Mueller said the fact that all legal weed is tested for 54 contaminants will appeal to many consumers who have been buying pot on street corners, as will product consistency and the burgeoning variety of marijuana strains.

Good Day Farm’s Gregory said the fact that it is legal can make a big difference. She was in Michigan when the state made the move to legal recreational cannabis.

“I was in a dispensary and a man came in, probably in his 70s. He walked into the store, raised his hands and started crying. He said, ‘I never thought I would see the day when I could walk in and buy this plant that has helped me so much,’” she said.