ST. LOUIS — Missourians won’t vote on fully legalizing marijuana until later this year. But the industry is confident.
Over and over at its latest convention on Friday, leaders of one of the state’s newest business sectors spoke of the change as inevitable, citing hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and promising polls. They even invited state regulators to the event, at Union Station, to discuss how things would work when recreational use gets underway.
“I really debated about whether it was presumptuous to have this conversation,” convention organizer Karin Spinks Chester told a crowd. “But 390,000 signatures convinced me.”
The remarks kicked off a two-day celebration of an industry that in just four years has gone from nothing to selling $1 million in product per day, employing more than 7,000 people and serving more than 180,000 patients. The convention’s first day catered to industry personnel; Saturday is for medical marijuana patients, who will get in free. Organizers said they expect 1,500.
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On Friday, dozens of vendors set up booths in one of the hotel ballrooms to advertise their gummies, oils and beverages — “Try the HailMary D8 Cannatails TONIGHT!”
Beside those were tables for sellers of accessories, like pipes and scent-eliminating candles, and services for the industry, like online training for dispensary employees and shields designed to keep the bud fresh.
Culligan Water touted its system for watering cannabis plants. There was even a station dedicated to literally growing the industry by certifying new patients for free.
Among those walking the halls was Zach Heston, of Florida. He said he was part of the entertainment and declined to elaborate. But his assessment was brief: “It’s pretty cool.”
There were plenty of boosters around.
When John Payne, the man in charge of the legalization initiative, was asked about his proposal’s prospects for success on the ballot later this year, he laid out a politico’s dream: Public polling shows support of 60% or more, he said. And he didn’t think that would change.
“This is an issue that people have really thought a fair amount about,” he said. “It’s not something where they move around a whole lot.”
Several owners of the state’s existing cannabis businesses said the same thing.
COCO Labs CEO Brooke Foster, who owns dispensaries in Moberly, Hannibal and Chillicothe, said that even in conservative rural Missouri, her medical business has been welcomed with open arms.
“We’ve had no pushback,” she said.
Jennifer McGuire, co-founder of locally based CAMP Cannabis, noted the legalization proposal has taken input from a broad array of key groups, including the NAACP.
Payne reviewed a lot of the initiative’s big selling points before a crowd on Friday afternoon. The tax money generated from sales would help pay for special courts aimed at addressing substance abuse, he said. It would put money toward Missouri’s public defender system, long decried as one of the nation’s worst-funded.
“This is going to bring some equity back into the criminal justice system,” he said.
It would also bring opportunity for the industry. Dispensaries in St. Louis could capture some of the business currently going to Illinois, which fully legalized cannabis in 2020. And they would have a much larger addressable market.
Jilian Locricchio, director of events for Maryland-based Holistic Industries, said her employer operates in a lot of different states, and they’ve seen the difference.
“All our rec markets are booming,” she said. “The possibilities are endless.”