New Direction: An interview with Amy Moore
The Missouri cannabis industry is officially under new leadership, but Amy Moore has been watching and working with Missouri’s marijuana operators and industry participants for longer than there have been licensed businesses.
Moore was the first Deputy Director for Missouri’s cannabis regulating body, and following the Departure of former director Lyndall Fraker, Moore assumed the interim-director position before being named permanently as Director of the Division of Cannabis Regulation.
The change in leadership accompanies a restructuring and rebranding of marijuana regulation in Missouri as a whole.
Formerly the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation, the passage of adult-use marijuana legalization in 2022 spurred changes to how cannabis is regulated in Missouri.
SMMR housed roughly 60 employees, tasked with covering and administrating the hundreds of licensed marijuana businesses throughout the state, as well as more than 200,000 registered medical marijuana patients – more than 24,000 of whom are licensed to cultivate at home.
With adult-use legalization, more than 140 new licensed businesses will be added to the list of responsibilities and the number of legal purchases and purchasers will explode. For context, Illinois averaged more than 1 million purchases per month in the state’s first year of adult-use marijuana sales. Last month, Missouri opened adult-use sales on Friday, February 3. In just 72 hours the state amassed more than $12 million dollars in retail marijuana sales, more than one-third of the total sales of January, the final month of medical-only marijuana sales in the state. In total, Missouri dispensaries sold more than $100 million dollars in legal marijuana. With 70% of revenue generated from adult-use sales. February’s single-month sales account for more than 13% of all marijuana sales in program history.
The transition from marijuana regulation as a section to its own division is more than a change in branding and a new logo. With the approval of the most recent budget, DCR is expected to grow to over 150 employees with a total headcount of roughly 170.
For Moore, the changes in the Department represent a welcome challenge.
“The transition in the program has been going well. It has been a night and day difference from the first implementation. This time around, we are surrounded by people with incredible skills, and great expertise, it’s not just me and Lyndall sitting around trying to figure out what to do with a brand new law that no one’s ever seen before.”
“The biggest challenge we had the first time around that we haven’t had this time was the industry and agency start-up. Though there are many new things to implement and still other things to adjust or expand with this implementation, the scope of the challenge is immensely reduced now that we have excellent operators already up and running. A full team of experts on the agency side contributing to every aspect of program development,” the Director said.
When Moore and Fraker first assumed leadership positions there was no organization. The program, the rules, the staff, everything was built from the ground up. In the beginning, there weren’t even budget allocations for the regulation of marijuana, as the initiative was passed outside of the legislative session.
In the time since, Missouri has become a powerhouse in the cannabis industry, with one of the most robust and diverse marijuana markets in the country, quickly transitioning to adult use, and consistently exceeding expectations.
“Our organizational structure is staying largely the same. We have our leadership team serving roles that are related to what everyone should be familiar with in Article 14, that is – patients’ and other individuals, including facility agents’ applications and processes for individuals’ and facilities’ compliance and enforcement – those have always been there. In addition to that, we have our Office of Operational Support, that’s always been there as well. Now, we have a new section related to the Chief Equity Officer called the Office of Business Opportunity. From there, within those groups, we have a lot of the same roles and responsibilities. To think about application processing, the details are a little different between medical facilities and micro businesses, but it’s the same program and it’s the same skill, so we’ve been able to keep all of the people that we have in the same roles and responsibilities and we’re just a bit more detailed. We’re expanding, covering some new aspects of those goals and responsibilities.”
With growth comes change, and with change comes uncertainty.
While a bulk of Missouri’s marijuana operators are familiar with Director Moore, many have seen changes in rules and regulations as a sign that the changing of the guard may entail obstacles for operators.
For Director Moore, many of those changes are brought about by necessity.
“A lot of what we were always doing is still there, but we’ve added on some new layers,” she explained.
“Even before most facilities were operational and converted, we were already making the transition to focus more on compliance and less on implementation.”
“Our mission statement is still very simple in that, we are focused on implementing Article XIV as it was written for safe access to cannabis. But, it was very interesting for us to see that public health was more emphasized in the adult–use side of the law than we had really felt it was originally on the medical side. And so it is something that we are more focused on now, trying to incorporate that into our thinking about everything we do, using that purpose statement for Section 2.”
The Purpose of Section 2 of Article XIV reads as follows:
The purpose of this section is to make marijuana legal under state and local law for adults twenty-one years of age or older, and to control the commercial production and distribution of marijuana under a system that licenses, regulates, and taxes the businesses involved while protecting public health. The intent is to prevent arrest and penalty for personal possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana by adults twenty-one years of age or older; remove the commercial production and distribution of marijuana from the illicit market; prevent revenue generated from commerce in marijuana from going to criminal enterprises; prevent the distribution of marijuana to persons under twenty-one years of age; prevent the diversion of marijuana to illicit markets; protect public health by ensuring the safety of marijuana and products containing marijuana; and ensure the security of marijuana facilities. To the fullest extent possible, this section shall be interpreted in accordance with the purpose and intent set forth in this section.
This section is not intended to allow for the public use of marijuana, driving while under the influence of marijuana, the use of marijuana in the workplace, or the use of marijuana by persons under twenty-one years of age.
“The way I would paraphrase it, really condensed, is we’re to regulate while protecting public health,” Moore continued. “Controlling distribution and everything we were always going to do as a regulatory body has now been paired with the caveat of ‘while protecting the public health,’ it’s something that we’re going to need to keep in the forefront of our philosophy as we proceed.”
For Director Moore and the regulators at DCR, defining “protecting public health” is an important step in the process.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about that lately. Our thinking on this, and where we may end up is really still developing. We have our rules now and so that’s it, we’ve set our framework.”
While there’s always room for improvement and change, and some changes may come before the proposed rules are finalized after public feedback, Director Moore’s focus is on moving forward.
“This idea of, ‘How do we implement all of this while protecting public health?’ is something that we are thinking about a lot and talking about. I would say the low-hanging fruit of what that means for us is – maintaining or increasing our focus on product safety and ensuring that regulated product is not appealing to minors, and transparent communication to consumers, whether it’s medical or adult use, about the products themselves – about the potential health considerations and consuming those products. That is all wrapped up in our idea of protecting public health.”
In late 2022, after the legalization of adult-use marijuana passed in November, Fraker, Moore, and the leaders of the Section for Medical Marijuana regulation were tasked with implementing required changes to the medical program within 30 days while simultaneously planning for the future of both adult use and medical marijuana in the state. When the first draft rules were released there was significant pushback from licensed operators as well as others in the cannabis industry. Many saw the drafts as more restrictive than the rules that operators had been following since the program’s inception.
“There’s a combination of reasons for the changes that we made in the rules,” Moore explained. “A lot of the current changes are about clarifying the intent of the original rule. We have gotten questions over the years about, ‘What does this actually require us to do?’ or ‘What was the intent?’ Now, we were able to take this opportunity to clarify what we felt was always there before.”
Director Moore says that many of the changes to existing rules, as well as the implementation of new rules, comes down to one of a handful of objectives; clarifying existing language, adding more detail because of the new law, or creating new language as required.
“There are differences in how the new law talks about things like advertising or facility security., But there’s also the overarching mandate to do everything while protecting public health. So, there’s not just one answer for why the rules may appear to be more sensitive or more restrictive. It’s really a bundle of things that went into the process of revisions in addition to the rules,” the Director said.
One of those changes comes in the form of a rule requiring all packaging to be pre–approved by the Department. While many have called the rule cumbersome, Director Moore points to an existing Missouri state law as the reason for the language changes. RSMO 195.805 contains the requirement, “The department shall promulgate rules and regulations prohibiting edible marijuana-infused products designed to appeal to persons under eighteen years of age, as well as promulgate rules and regulations to establish a process by which a licensed or certified entity may seek approval of an edible product design, package, or label prior to such product’s manufacture or sale in order to determine compliance with the provisions of this section and any rules promulgated pursuant to this section.”
“I really don’t know if we would have ended up here with this requirement to seek pre-approval if that statute regarding edible product design and edible packaging design didn’t exist. It’s in there at the bottom of that statute, there’s the requirement that we establish a process for approval of product and packaging design,” she said.
That change, requiring pre–approval of packaging, is part of the much larger overhaul of the division. The bulk of the infrastructure of what was the Section for Medical Marijuana Regulation remains the same, but with an increased focus on enforcement and compliance, and the expansion of and growth of the Division, Moore and her staff have the ability to refocus and use more than four years’ worth of knowledge to address needs.
“So much of what we’ve done since the beginning has been really practical. Building a section – now division, staffing, contracting, creating rules, all of that has just been the necessary nuts and bolts,” Moore explained. “But I think what I would say is the thing that I have learned, and am seeing right now is just how important it is to have and communicate a regulatory perspective or philosophy. We’ve got the law and we can do what it says to the best of our ability. We can issue policy guidance to help us answer questions on how to proceed, where they come up, or where it’s not really explicit, what we’re supposed to be doing. But above that, where there’s still a gray area where we, as a division, need guidance and need to know how to act. Increasingly, over time, it has become clear to me that it is very important to have and communicate a philosophy so that we can, as much as possible, stay on the same page. Even if we don’t know the answer or where maybe there has been a failure to communicate, the philosophy could be our internal guiding light. I think that’s very important for leading this position.”
“I think that philosophy we have been developing over time is still applicable now. Lyndall and I really worked so well together as a team. I think he would say the same that what we have developed as a culture is still going to work. It’s still who we are, and I think that there’s a lot that goes into that.
“We’re not here to insert our own judgment or our own preferences. We’re going to start with the law and what it says, and where there are gaps or places to interpret, we’re going to go to the law again for our policy. And where there are still things that we need more in order to make decisions, then our way of thinking guides us in how to proceed in those gray areas. That includes things like ‘it’s about public health,’ or it can be something even more practical like, ‘we’re not here to make decisions on areas where we don’t have authority.’ If we remember that – if there’s no rule, there’s no policy, then it’s okay that we don’t step into that area because it means it’s something that we’re not supposed to care about. And so I think that is a really good example of a philosophy we’ve tried to have from the beginning, that if it’s not within our authority, we don’t have to do anything, and we can let the business or other regulatory authorities decide. To use a common popular phrase these days, we want to stay in our lane.”
While there have been more than a few curves, bumps, and detours along the way, Moore calls her work in helping to establish and implement Missouri’s marijuana program her greatest career success.
“Being a part of the team that created the Missouri cannabis program has been the greatest challenge of my career, and what we have created here is something I will always be proud of.”
The next phase of Moore’s legacy is already underway. While there will be more obstacles on the road ahead, for the Director, the advice her father routinely gave her may be the thing that allows her to stay true to the culture and philosophy she has helped to create and now stewards: ”The path to your goal is not always a straight line.”