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The Missouri Medical Marijuana program made significant advances during 2020.

Hundreds of facilities received licenses to operate at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year, 33 medical marijuana facilities were fully operational, and patients had begun purchasing products, according to the Medical Marijuana Regulatory Program 2020 Annual Report.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services published its constitutionally required report to the governor regarding the program in late August. Data from the report spanned the year from Dec. 6, 2019, through Dec. 5, 2020.

During that time, the program issued 56,448 patient licenses and renewed 12,062 patient licenses.

DHSS also began facility commencement inspections and approved opening of 10 cultivation, two laboratory testing, two transportation, one manufacturing and 17 dispensary facilities during the year-long period, according to the report.

The first dispensary in Jefferson City opened shortly after the period, on Jan. 25, 2021 — Missouri Health and Wellness, at 1404A Missouri Blvd.

A second dispensary, Shangri-La, 2118 Missouri Blvd., opened about two months later.

Kristin Gosnell, training coordinator and manager at Missouri Health and Wellness, said things have gone very well with the store, but it could always use more patients.

"I'm a firm believer in the more the merrier," Gosnell said. "We are readily available to assist people with the application process. Should anyone have questions or need guidance, we encourage them to stop in at the dispensary."

During 2020, the regulatory division received more than 103,000 patient and caregiver applications. Caregivers, by definition, are at least 21 years old and responsible for managing the well-being of a qualified patient.

The division issued patient licenses for 2,304 patients facing terminal illnesses — 2,204 cancer patients, 65 with terminal illnesses other than cancer, 13 with cachexia (wasting of the body because of severe chronic illness), 11 with sickle cell anemia, eight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and three with Huntington's disease (a hereditary disease marked by degeneration of brain cells that causes dementia).

It issued 19,336 patient licenses for patients with chronic medical conditions — 17,492 to patients whose conditions were not defined in the report, and 500 with neuropathy, 440 with HIV, 374 with Crohn's disease, 278 with inflammatory bowel disease, 18 with hepatitis C, 58 with autism and six with wasting syndrome.

The division issued 11,008 licenses for patients with other medical conditions — 9,522 for patients whose conditions were not defined, 844 for epilepsy, 631 for glaucoma and 11 for Alzheimer's disease.

It issued 20,988 licenses to patients who suffer physical or psychological dependence, 11,914 to patients for psychiatric disorders and 3,843 for migraines.

As of Monday morning, 134,276 patients had received approval for medical marijuana in Missouri, as had 3,195 caregivers, said Lisa Cox, DHSS communications director.

The division had also approved identification cards for 4,584 agents, she said.

Agents include "all owners who hold any portion of the economic or voting interest of a medical marijuana facility who will also have access to medical marijuana or the medical marijuana facility, and all officers, directors, board members, managers and employees," according to the DHSS website. Those listed must apply for facility agent identification cards and must submit fingerprints for background checks.

Data show 27,458 Missourians have been approved to cultivate their own medical marijuana.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, said Friday the number of new licensed agents shows how medical marijuana is driving economic growth in the state.

"An industry that this time last year existed largely on paper has since added nearly 5,000 new jobs across Missouri — a growth rate expected to rise as medical cannabis cements its foothold in the state," Cardetti said in a news release.

He points out more than 140 retail locations have opened across the state.

"Analysts say the Missouri industry is expected to generate several thousand more new jobs, more than $800 million in direct spending and another $570 million in indirect spending over the course of its first full year of sales and operation," the release said.

Cardetti points out the initiative that created the program required the state to locate dispensaries in each of Missouri's Congressional districts so they would be distributed to locations near all residents.

By comparison, Illinois, with 12.67 million residents, has only 55 licensed retail outlets for medical marijuana.

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