Should marijuana be declared an essential need in Missouri?

The answer is a resounding YES!

Let’s tell it like it is. COVID 19 has been nothing less than a disaster for the fledgling medical marijuana industry in Missouri.

Just as licensees should be in the process of standing up their businesses, many previously committed investors are back peddling faster than a crawfish. New investors are rare as hen’s teeth. And where is that banker who was so nice a couple of weeks ago? He’s in a secure, undisclosed location without access to email.


The irony is, marijuana sales are up across the country. According to Flowhub, between March 16 and March 22, sales of recreational marijuana in California, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska were up 50 percent, and sales of medical marijuana were up 41 percent from the same period last year. Just last Monday, Denver saw its biggest sales day of the year, with marijuana sales up 140 percent over an average Monday. In many cities and states with lockdown orders in place, marijuana businesses are among the few that are still allowed to operate. And Missouri, with its limited licenses, low taxes, and broad definition of a qualifying medical condition looks like one of the best investments in the industry. But timing is everything. And Missouri’s timing is terrible.

So far, the reaction of the MO Dept. of Health’s Marijuana Division has been to publicly state it expects no delays in the rollout of the program, and it will address difficulties experienced by individual licensees one-on-one on a case-by-case basis. That is very safe, and good as far as it goes. And it is understandable the Division would be hesitant to publically help licensees because of pressure on the Division from applicants who were not awarded a license and want the winners’ feet held to the fire. But if something more is not done, there is a good chance patient access will suffer. Some industry participants are already predicting an initial wholesale price for flower in Missouri of $4,000 per lb. or more, almost twice previous estimates, due to a lack of supply.


One thing the Division, and the entire Dept. of Health for that matter, could do is declare medical marijuana an essential need in Missouri. This would not be unprecedented. In fact, 12 states with shutdown orders in place due to COVID 19 have specifically exempted medical marijuana dispensaries as essential businesses. And while it might seem pointless to declare marijuana an essential need in Missouri when there are no dispensaries or even cultivations up and running yet, a declaration would do two things that could be very helpful to licensees. It would give support and authority to licensees that are trying to push forward with plans while navigating local shutdown orders in Missouri and other states. And it would help calm investors, new and old, by assuring them that construction and other plans for standing up marijuana businesses in Missouri are not stalled out but instead will go forward despite COVID 19, and once up and running, the state will support the continued operation of those businesses through any lockdown orders.


Christopher McHugh is an attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, practicing in all aspects of Cannabis Law but with a focus on problem avoidance through pre-emptive regulatory compliance planning and communication. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Vertical Enterprise, LLC, a medical marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and dispensary company in St. Joseph, Missouri.