As legal weed comes to Missouri, lawsuits still pending over medical marijuana program

JEFFERSON CITY — At the same time Missouri regulators are working to launch a recreational marijuana program, hundreds of lawsuits related to the 2019 rollout of medical cannabis remain in legal limbo.

Of the more than 880 lawsuits filed by companies that failed to obtain a limited number of licenses to grow, transport and sell medical marijuana, 430 of them are still winding their way through the state’s Administrative Hearings Commission process.

Mary Erickson, a spokeswoman for the AHC, said the remaining cases are in various stages of litigation.

“Some cases are pending decisions after hearings, while some cases have been set for trial,” Erickson said.

The backlog required the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to hire private, outside attorneys at a cost of more than $10.2 million, including more than $700,000 since July 1.

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And at the AHC, there is a position open to fill an attorney opening that will focus largely on the medical marijuana cases. The temporary position, which can be performed remotely, pays up to $60,000.

“Ideal opportunity for experienced attorneys to continue practicing law and receive government benefits on a short-term basis,” the job posting said.

As part of the licensing process to launch the state’s legalized medical marijuana program, the state received 2,266 marijuana business applications submitted by at least 700 different groups. It awarded 60 licenses to grow marijuana, 86 to make marijuana-infused products and 192 to open dispensaries.

Many of the companies that didn’t get licenses say the state’s points system for awarding permits was flawed.

A check of the docket of the hearing commission indicates that it will be well into next year before they are likely to be resolved.

For example, a March 2020 case involving Dream Leaf LLC, which was unsuccessful in obtaining a license, shows that the parties may not meet in court until March or April.

Dream Leaf applied to open a facility in Clay County near Kansas City, but DHSS said local ordinances prohibit operating a dispensary. In addition, the company claims the scoring system used to determine winners and losers was incorrect.

Now, those who won medical licenses are in line for the new recreational licenses, which were approved as part of a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The change, approved by 53% of voters, gives current medical marijuana license holders the right to “convert” their medical licenses into recreational licenses.

The companies will be able to apply for “comprehensive” sales permits on December 8.

The state must then act on those applications within 60 days, making Feb. 6 the date the state will be required to approve conversion applications submitted on Dec. 8.

DHSS spokeswoman Lisa Cox previously told the Post-Dispatch that officials expect to convert licenses “before the 60-day deadline, once we submit rules for comprehensive facilities.”

Missouri is now one of 21 states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use. Maryland voters also approved legalization on Election Day. Voters in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota rejected similar measures.

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