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Legal weed available in Missouri days earlier than expected: 'We’re flying by the seat of our pants'

A person standing behind a counter points to some white packets on the counter. There is a person's hands on the left side of the picture holding another white packet. They are in a retail shop with purple walls and shelves of cannabis products can be seen in the background.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Margaret Schmitz Rizzo helps a customer seeking recreational cannabis decide which vaping products to purchase at Fresh Green Dispensary in Waldo early Friday morning, Feb. 3, 2023.

Missouri began approving licenses for dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana a few days earlier than expected. But despite the late notice, customers were lining up first thing Friday morning.

Marijuana dispensaries around Kansas City opened their doors to a sudden rush of customers on Friday, the first day that legal weed became available to purchase in Missouri.

“It’s just been crazy,” said Bianca Sullivan, CEO of Fresh Green Dispensary in Brookside. “Everybody thought that maybe they’d roll out over the weekend.”

The Missouri State Department of Health and Senior Services announced Thursday they would start approving conversion requests for medical marijuana dispensaries, which many businesses applied for in December.

That was a few days ahead of schedule, and caught both owners and customers by surprise — the state previously said Monday, Feb. 6 would be the start of legal weed sales to non-medical clients.

Despite the late notice, Sullivan said she had customers lining up at 8 a.m.

“Everything has gone pretty smoothly so far,” she said. “We’ve been definitely busy with recreational patients but not overwhelmed or anything like that.”

Medical marijuana has been allowed in Missouri since the passage of a ballot measure in 2018, but voters went a step further this November by approving a constitutional amendment legalizing the drug for anyone 21 or older to purchase and consume.

At Good Day Farm dispensary in Kansas City, Lacee Stanley from Kansas City said her father had been using medical marijuana for a while. She showed up to buy her first batch of recreational marijuana shortly after their doors opened.

“I really like to see what it’s like for him,” she said. “But I also have anxiety, depression myself so it’s nice to see what it is without the pressure of having to apply for things, go through a lot of things, and kind of just for fun.”

Stanley said her friends who work at different dispensaries tipped her off to the sudden availability.

“It feels so much less stressful,” she says. “It feels less illegal, it feels less pressure that we’re doing something bad with the stuff, so there’s such a less negative connotation with it.

Jane Justus, a marketing specialist for Good Day Farm, said they’ve been getting ready for this day for the last few months, but were still caught a little off guard. The company has almost 20 locations around Missouri and more in Mississippi and Arkansas.

“We’re flying by the seat of our pants,” she said.

A small white box read "Marijuana Infused Product, sits next to a small white packet and a glass jar that contains marijuana flower inside. It is labeled "Quality Craft Cannabis."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
An employee at Fresh Green dispensary checks out a customer purchasing a variety of different recreational cannabis products on Feb. 3, 2023.

Good Day Farm made their first two sales of recreational marijuana shortly after their doors opened at 9 a.m. Justus says was excited for a new kind of customer to experience buying legal cannabis.

“This isn’t what they bought behind the bleacher when they were 16,” Justus said. This is really important, really special, tested, great product that can help people live a better life.”

Where can you buy recreational marijuana in the Kansas City area?

As of Feb. 3, the following Kansas City area businesses are open and have been approved for comprehensive marijuana licenses:

What to know before you go to a dispensary

Adults who plan to buy marijuana from a legal dispensary must present a valid government-issued ID to do so. Some dispensaries will accept debit card payments, while others take cash only — businesses can’t accept credit cards because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.

Customers who buy recreational marijuana will have to pay a 6% state tax. Several Kansas City-area municipalities are also considering their own local sales tax on recreational marijuana. During the April 4 primary election, voters in Kansas City, Independence, North Kansas City, Blue Springs and Jackson County will be asked whether to approve a 3% sales tax.

Kansas City officials have said revenue from that sales tax would support homelessness programs, violence prevention and efforts to combat illegal dumping. The city estimates that the tax will generate $3 million annually for the first few years, and then $10 million per year after the fifth year.

Amendment 3 did impose possession limits: Non-medicinal users are limited to 3 ounces of marijuana or less, while users with medical cards can possess up to 6 ounces.

Spokeswoman Lisa Cox of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which regulates marijuana, said personal cultivation application forms have been available for the last month for people who want to grow a limited amount of their own cannabis. The state will also begin accepting applications for those licenses, which cost $100, starting Feb. 3.

Driving under the influence is not permitted under Missouri law, along with use of marijuana in public spaces, in the workplace or on school grounds. Missouri also bars selling marijuana outside the regulated system or taking marijuana into another state.

Among the places prohibiting marijuana are the four campuses of the University of Missouri System. The university cited two federal laws — the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-Free Workplace Act — on Wednesday in announcing a continued prohibition of marijuana on campuses and at university-sponsored events. Student violators could face discipline up to expulsion.

Under the new constitutional amendment, Missouri will automatically expunge the criminal records for most people on probation or parole for a misdemeanor marijuana offense, a process expected to be completed by mid-2023. People who are incarcerated, meanwhile, must petitionto have their sentence vacated.

Missouri was the first state in the nation to pass an expungement measure for nonviolent offenses on a statewide ballot.

Corrected: February 6, 2023 at 11:55 AM CST
A previous version of this story incorrectly calculated the sales tax that Kansas City customers could pay if Jackson County and the city both pass their ballot measures.
As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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