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Missouri issued medical marijuana dispensary licenses Thursday, a day earlier than expected.

In compliance with the constitutional amendment, which voters passed in 2018, the Department of Health and Senior Service is awarding 192 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries — 24 in each of the eight congressional districts in Missouri.

The intention is that dispensaries will be nearby and available for people suffering from severe medical conditions. However, of the 114 counties (and the independent city of St. Louis) in the state, 36 rural counties lacked any applications for dispensaries. The dearth of dispensaries are most prominent in blocks of the north-central and south-central areas of the state.

Only 192 licenses are to be awarded statewide, and 1,163 individuals and organizations applied for the licenses. So, the dreams of about 1,000 applicants are about to go up in smoke.

Non-refundable application fees for dispensaries were $6,000 each — and the state received a total of $7.87 million in the fees. Recipients of licenses are required to pay annual fees of $10,000 ($1.92 million) within 30 days of notification.

The DHSS section for medical marijuana regulation is notifying applicants about their status via email.

Critics have questioned the agency's blind scoring system for selection of license recipients, but the DHSS defends the system as the fairest way to issue the licenses.

Paul Callicoat and his family sued the state after they were denied a license to operate a marijuana cultivation site called Sarcoxie Nursery Cultivation Center, LLC. The family is requesting courts impose a restraining order against the DHSS. However, late last month, a Cole County judge denied the request. The family has also been denied its application for an infused-product manufacturing facility. The family's application ranked 236th, based on the scoring criteria. The state only issued licenses to the top 60 applicants.

On Thursday, the DHSS denied all four of the family's applications for dispensaries — one each in Joplin and Monett, and two in Kansas City.

"We are disappointed that all four of our dispensary applications were denied," the family stated in a news release. "This remains consistent with the flawed scoring process that has been brought into question by us and others."

The next court appearance concerning the lawsuit is to be in a Cole County courtroom Feb. 19.

"Today's milestone represents over a year of effort by many people to put the final piece in place so that appropriately screened patients in Missouri can receive medical marijuana," Director Randall Williams said in a DHSS news release. "We thank all who have helped us to date, and we will continue to listen so that we can best serve the people of our state."

Dispensaries are expected to open and begin selling medical marijuana as early as this summer.

In mid-December, the DHSS began issuing licenses. It has previously issued licenses for 10 testing facilities (eight more than required), 21 transportation facilities, 60 cultivation facilities and 86 infused-product manufacturing facilities. The department is scheduled to issue licenses for seed-to-sale facility certifications (which track medical marijuana products) Jan. 31.

The amendment received 1,572,592 votes statewide (65.54 percent). It made marijuana use legal for treatment of cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, intractable migraines (persistent migraines that don't respond to other treatments), chronic medical conditions that cause severe, persistent pain or persistent muscle spasms, including, but not limited to those associated with multiple sclerosis, seizures, Parkinson's disease and Tourette syndrome, debilitating psychiatric disorders (when diagnosed by a state licensed psychiatrist), including but not limited to post-traumatic disorder, human immunodeficiency virus or acquired dependence (if a physician determines cannabis would be effective and safer), any terminal illness, or (in the professional judgment of a physician) any other chronic debilitating medical condition.

Between non-refundable application fees and annual fees, applicants for medical marijuana licenses paid in about $19.1 million from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019, according to DHSS data. The revenue has additionally generated about $100,000 in interest.

The section for medical marijuana regulation has spent $3.1 million.

The money generated has helped the section continue to grow to meet its needs, Director Lyndall Fraker told the News Tribune last month. The next staffing growth for the section will involve inspectors. Applications for those jobs may be found at mocareers.mo.gov.

After the bills are paid, the amendment specifies the remaining funds are to be placed in a new fund administered by the Missouri Veterans Commission.

Eight applicants sought dispensaries in Cole County — 9 Points LLC, 1708 Missouri Blvd.; Certified Alternative Medicine Providers, 2106 Missouri Blvd.; GTI Missouri, LLC, 1917 Christy Drive; HCKC LLC, 3314 W. Truman Blvd.; Missouri Health and Wellness, LLC, 1406 Missouri Blvd.; Premium Medicine of Missouri, LLC, 711 W. McCarty St.; Shangri-La Jefferson City, LLC, 1417 Missouri Blvd.; and Verano MO, LLC, 3535 Missouri Blvd.

Hopefuls applied for 101 medical marijuana dispensary licenses elsewhere in Mid-Missouri, in addition to the eight from Cole County. Boone County accounted for 51 applications; Callaway County, 5; Camden County, 24; Miller County, 6; and Morgan County, 5.

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