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story.lead_photo.caption Sarah Coffman, left, was the first in line Monday to make a purchase at Missouri Health and Wellness as Jefferson City's first medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors. Staff, referred to as wellness specialists, helped a number of customers select a product and associated accessories. Coffman was assisted in her purchase by specialists Justin Colvin and Stephanie Bentch. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Jefferson City's first medical marijuana dispensary opened Monday.

As word got out, a steady stream of patients began arriving in the new business' sparkling new lobby.

Missouri Health & Wellness' first customer, Jefferson City resident Sarah Coffman, said she had been waiting on the business to open for a while, although she's only had her medical marijuana patient card about a week.

"This is extremely convenient. It's amazing to have this medicine available to us right here in Jefferson City," Coffman said.

Coffman's prescription helps her with depression and anxiety, she said.

With the help of a wellness specialist, she decided on a pre-rolled marijuana cigarette and a container of mango gummies.

Visitors in the lobby, as they sign up to enter the sales area, may peruse information about the major cannabinoids on view screens placed high on walls around the room. Information is offered on slide shows running on a loop.

The MH&W location handles strictly medical cannabis, store manager Kristin Gosnell said. It is the largest of the five that MH&W operates.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Section on Medical Marijuana Regulation issued the company licenses for the maximum of five dispensaries. The company also has stores in Washington and Sedalia, with Kirksville and Belton still to open.

A Missouri Medical Marijuana patient guide is available on the company's website, mhwdispensaries.com/the-missouri-medical-marijuana-patient-guide.

There has been widespread interest in the store opening, MH&W Regional Manager Kathleen Beebe said.

"We've received a number of phone calls. A lot of people were curious about when we were going to open," Gosnell said.

Central Missouri contains a fair percentage of the 70,000 patients who have received their medical marijuana cards, allowing them to purchase the products, Beebe said.

"We've been working on (the Jefferson City location) for several months. We are very patient-focused and medically oriented," she said.

Gosnell, who is the company's training coordinator, pointed out the dispensary stresses patient education.

When approved, patients are given access to the sales floor. They may look through displays with various accessories intended for use of cannabis in "flower" or concentrated forms.

Displays also provide information on some of the varieties of cannabis the company offers, such as Lemon Haze.

"Lemon Haze has an aroma compared to fresh lemons and a sweet citrus, while mildly earthy flavor," an information card says. "It is an uplifting strain that can eventually turn to couchlock if consumed in high amounts."

"Couchlock" is a term used by cannabis users to describe strong physical relaxation and sedation caused by marijuana.

Other cards tout the company's marijuana cigarettes. For example "GG4," which was formally known as Gorilla Glue No. 4, "is an award-winning strain know for delivering heavy-handed euphoria and exceptional pain relief."

Pain relief, without some of the side effects of prescription narcotic medications, is a goal of many medical marijuana patients.

Missouri's medical marijuana amendment passed in 2018 with nearly 66 percent of voters' approval. It made marijuana 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 psychiatric disorders (when diagnosed by a state licensed psychiatrist), including but not limited to post-traumatic stress 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.

The Section on Medical Marijuana Regulation released its first required report in June 2020.

According to the report, of those who had received qualifications to be medical marijuana patients in 2019, about 32.5 percent were seeking treatment for psychiatric conditions, 27 percent for chronic medical conditions, 16.9 percent for physical/psychological dependence, 3.9 percent for migraines, 3.7 percent for cancer, 1.5 percent for epilepsy, 1.2 percent for glaucoma, 1.1 percent for neuropathies, 0.9 percent for HIV, 0.8 percent for Crohn's disease, 0.5 percent for inflammatory bowel disease, 0.5 percent for hepatitis, and 9.9 percent for other conditions that include terminal illnesses, wasting syndrome, agitation of Alzheimer's disease, cachexia, sickle cell anemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington's disease and other conditions not otherwise defined.

Jefferson City's MH&W dispensary has 14 employees.

Wellness specialists manned six registers in the sales area Monday. They'd each been trained on the qualities of the products the dispensary is carrying, how to use the products and how to use them with accessories.

"Especially with edibles," Gosnell said, "we strongly encourage individuals to start with between 2.5 and 5 milligrams, just to see how cannabis is going to affect you."

The goal is to prevent people from over-medicating themselves, she said.

The dispensary also offers educational materials and the "Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana" books, she said.

Operating hours for the dispensary, located at 1404A Missouri Blvd., are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays.

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