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In the Weed Part 3: Sight Lines

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As Easy Mountain Cannabis Co. closes in on nine months of business, dozens of new patients pass daily through its doors – a trend co-owner Alex Paulson said basically started on day one.

Since opening, the Republic dispensary’s patient count has surpassed 2,400, and its owners say they have no reason to believe the number won’t continue to grow in 2022. The company is on pace to surpass $2 million in revenue for the year.

“We see, on an average day, around 100 customers a day, and probably 30% of those are new almost every day. We have a fair amount of new patients coming in,” he said, noting word of mouth has been the biggest driver. “Obviously, we have to assume at some point that we’ll start to saturate the patients in our area and have less new patients.”

The company is part of a budding industry in Missouri that recently completed its first year of legal medical marijuana sales. In the first year it’s been legal, cumulative sales surpassed $160.2 million, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. As more dispensaries started operations, the sales total rose $24 million between September and October – the largest month-to-month increase to date.

Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana at DHSS, said 177 dispensaries in Missouri are now open. 

“It can still grow a little bit, but it’ll probably level out at some point. All in all, you’ll still see $25 million a month pretty consistently,” he said of dispensary sales.

The state in January 2020 issued 192 dispensary licenses out of some 1,200 applicants, with 24 awarded in each congressional district.

While Fraker said DHSS monitors sales as a courtesy for the industry, its total, as well as the number of patients and caregivers acquiring medical marijuana cards, have exceeded expectations.

“We expected to be at 180,000 patients by next July. That was on the high end as 3% of our Missouri population,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to be over 200,000 by first of July. We’re at 153,000 patients today. We can very well hit 220,000 patients by then. And this was with having over a year and a half of a pandemic.”

State law requires fees and taxes collected from medical marijuana facilities and patients go toward the Missouri Veterans Commission for health and care services for military veterans. Medical marijuana sales in licensed dispensaries are taxed at a 4% rate. DHSS made a transfer of over $6.8 million to the commission in September, according to a news release. It was the second funds transfer from the medical marijuana program by DHSS, following $2.1 million directed to MVC in September 2020.

Recreational reality
Easy Mountain co-owner Drew Beine said future revenue growth for his dispensary – and the industry statewide – will be impacted by the prospects of recreational marijuana, also known as adult use, receiving voter approval as medical use through Amendment 2 did in 2018.

He and Paulson believe Easy Mountain’s revenue could hit $3 million next year with just medical marijuana sales.

“It’s tough to project, but based off of how busy we are right now and the trend over the past year, it’s reasonable to think it’ll go up,” he said. “The reality is there’s only so many customers we can take through our doors in a day. We haven’t gotten close to maxing that out, but there will be a plateau.”

Two groups, Legal Missouri 2022 and Fair Access Missouri, are seeking to legalize adult marijuana use and expunge nonviolent cannabis-related criminal records. Each submitted proposals to the Missouri secretary of state’s office and are working their way through the initiative  petition process. The measures could appear on election ballots as early as next year.

Both Paulson and Beine consider the legalization of adult-use cannabis an inevitability for Missouri.

“Not necessarily is it going to be this first time that it’s on the ballot,” Paulson said. “But I’d be shocked if it isn’t within maybe two years or something like that. I’d absolutely say it’s just a matter of time.”

Missouri is among 36 states and the District of Columbia that allow medical use of cannabis products. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia also allow recreational use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Almost 70% of the state that turned out to vote approved Amendment 2, which just shows compassion for cannabis and an understanding even if it’s something they don’t use personally,” Beine said.

Roughly 66% of voters statewide, and over 63% in Greene County, approved Amendment 2.

He said the trend for voters in states to approve both medicinal and recreational use of cannabis has occurred more expeditiously in recent years, he cited Illinois and Michigan as two examples. While it took 10 years for Michigan to approve both uses, Illinois began allowing legal recreational cannabis at the start of 2020, six years after its medicinal use was approved.

Fraker also is confident the adult-use issue will appear on a Missouri election ballot at some point.

“Beyond that, I’m not going to predict the voters,” he said.

Coming soon
Looking toward next year for Easy Mountain, Paulson said extending hours of operation, currently noon-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, is in the plans.

“Opening on Sundays will be the next big thing. We’ll have to staff up for that,” he said.

That will likely start in January, after the holidays, resulting in either additional hours for the current nine-person staff or adding personnel, he said.

An in-house delivery option also is coming early next year. Shoppers will be able to log on to Easy Mountain’s website, set up their cart and pick a day for delivery. It’s still undetermined how far the delivery radius will be, Paulson said.

“We have a lot of details to work out on that right now, such as what our insurance company is going to allow and not going to allow,” he said. “We’re looking to launch before February. The sooner, the better.”

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