Missouri’s new medical marijuana program prevents patients from becoming refugees
Lonnie Kessler is a cancer patient from Moberly, Mo. that has been diagnosed with intractable epilepsy. He knows that medical marijuana can improve the quality of his life. Without a medical marijuana program in Missouri, however, Kessler could have to make a tough decision: leave the state to get treatment or stay home and suffer.
Missourians have already left the state to access medical marijuana treatment. Gina Stephens suffered from chronic back pain until she moved to Colorado and started a regimen of THC products.
As Missouri voter’s mulled a referendum that would give Missouri a medical marijuana program, Stephens and Kessler’s life hang in the balance of election night results on Nov. 6, 2018.
Missouri became the 32nd state to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday, Nov. 6, but patients still have a while to wait before they have full access. The amendment will not go into effect until Dec. 6 and it could take up to two years before cultivation facilities and dispensaries are up and running.
“On average it takes about 24 months between the time a program passes to the time the first sale is made,” James Yagielo said.
Yagielo is the CEO of Hemp Staff, a company dedicated to training dispensary workers in states with new medical marijuana programs. He has seen many patients become frustrated with the time it takes to establish a new program.
“People don’t think about all the stuff that needs to be done first. This causes major frustration in every state and anger,” Yagielo said.
Until licenses are granted and dispensaries are open, patients are still restricted from marijuana as medicine. One of Gina Stephens’ fellow patients and friend was arrested for possession in Oklahoma after the state had legalized medical marijuana, but before the program was fully established.
“That’s kind of a big thing for the people in Missouri. Until dispensaries open and things happen, the laws are really not in place to protect you,” Stephens said.
According to Yagielo, states must first write regulations for the program. The Department of Health and Senior Services has been tasked with developing the rules for the Missouri’s new program.
“The committee will be formed by the government and they implement laws that are in accords with whatever [ballot initiative] is passed,” Yagielo said.
Then, applications will be made available for qualifying patients by June 4 of next year. The Department of Health will begin accepting applications for licenses to cultivate and sell medical marijuana no later than Aug. 3.
“Usually you don’t see licenses awarded until about a year after it passed,” Yagielo said. “And then usually it takes about another year for the facilities to build their cultivation centers, start growing, and have the product ready.”
Qualifying conditions include any medical condition that a physician determines to be debilitating or chronic. Yagielo says there will likely be clinics established for the sole purpose of recommending medical marijuana to patients.
“There are companies like Marijuana Doctors that are in multiple states and as soon as a new state passes, they start opening up their clinics in that state and start to recruit doctors,” Yagielo said.
Representatives from New Approach Missouri, the ballot initiative’s sponsor, are hoping for dispensaries to open by the beginning of 2020. Yagielo believes doctors and patients will focus on educating themselves in the meantime.
“Once a program is passed in a state there start to be a lot of marijuana conferences, which offer a lot of education. Then there will also be courses to educate people on what conditions are accepted, how to get a medical marijuana card and what cannabis can do,” Yagielo said.
Stephens hopes to return to Missouri once the program is fully established to help patients educate themselves on how to safely and effectively use medical marijuana.
“I’m getting ready to be certified to be a trainer on cannabis products. I want to come home and talk to people about products and things that can help them so they don’t go through what I went through,” Stephens said.