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Economy & Business

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Are Open In Missouri, But Don’t Expect Any Bargains

Cannabis flower grows at a recreational grow facility in Illinois. Sales of recreational marijuana started Illinois Jan 1.
File Photo | Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio
Medical marijuana sales started this week at a few dispensaries in Missouri, including at N'Bliss locations in Manchester and Ellisville. More licensed dispensaries are expected to open by the end of the year.

Missouri’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors this week in the St. Louis and Kansas City regions to high demand. More than 66,000 Missourians hold medical cards.

One thing that’s coming into focus is just how much legal cannabis will cost. For Missourians who’ve purchased cannabis on the black market or who have been growing it with a license since last summer, they may have sticker shock.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, said prices are at their highest point.

“This is essentially the highest prices will ever be. And as more product comes onto the market, as more cultivators are producing, we obviously expect prices to go down,” he said, adding that he expects nearly 10 more cultivators to add product to the market in the coming weeks.

Right now, only one cultivator, out of 60 licensed in the state, is providing cannabis to the dispensaries that opened this week.

Alyssa Jank, a manager at the cannabis market research firm Brightfield Group, said Missouri dispensary prices are in line with Illinois’ recreational market, averaging between $50 and $60 for an eighth of an ounce of cannabis.

“Which is pretty standard, at least in the Midwest right now,” she said. “That’s due to capacity issues — so not having enough product available right now. ... But as more dispensaries and more cultivation centers come online, we’re expecting that price to decline slowly.”

Over time, Jank anticipates Missouri’s dispensaries will offer different pricing tiers, ranging from budget to premium options.

Lyndall Fraker, director of the medical marijuana program for the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said his department hasn’t yet discussed whether and how it will release data, such as industry sales figures and how much the state is collecting in taxes.

Missourians buying cannabis products must pay their local sales tax in addition to a 4% tax.

Fraker said retail sales appear to be going well.

“Other than the one mold issue on the one isolated situation, all the reports we had received were very positive,” he said, referring to an investigation into a consumer complaint, issued earlier this week about mold on a cannabis product, that concluded Thursday. He said the product batch didn’t pose a health hazard.

That’s good news for dispensaries, which rely on high quality as a selling point for patients.

Those buying cannabis at a dispensary tend to be in higher income groups, according to data collected by Jank’s firm.

More than half of medical cannabis patients in Illinois and Michigan spend about $50 per cannabis product on average, according to Brightfield Group’s most recent quarterly survey of U.S. cannabis consumers.

For some Missouri patients, price will be a barrier to accessing dispensary quality cannabis.

Grow your own

High prices at the dispensary won’t hold back patients with a green thumb. There are other options for obtaining medical cannabis at less expensive rates.

Dawn Abernathy is encouraging more medical marijuana patients to consider growing their own cannabis or working with a caregiver who can do it for them.

Abernathy works at Fleur Verte Academy’s virtual clinic, which among other things helps match patients with caregivers, people who are licensed to grow cannabis for up to three patients. The state has given out about 17,000 caregiver licenses, Fraker said.

Caregivers can’t charge for the plant, but they can negotiate the cost of their services depending on circumstances.

“Now their time, their energy, their expertise, their utilities — that has to be compensated. And that’s where the negotiations come in. You can do sweat equity, some people barter,” Abernathy said.

She’s a caregiver herself, growing cannabis for three patients to help relieve symptoms related to cancer and an autoimmune disorder. She considers them all family and adds that caregiving offers patients a more personal experience when figuring out how to add cannabis to their health care.

“If something happens, and they go to the ER, I'm going straight to the ER because I don't want them to ever be in a circumstance where they are not being advocated for because their health is in limbo,” she said.

Fleur Verte Academy is also trying to remove obstacles facing those who are hoping to start growing their own cannabis. It recently launched a “co-grow” option, which is like a coworking space where people can rent space and equipment to grow cannabis plants for personal use.

The company also offers services to help more Black entrepreneurs get involved in the industry.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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