Bright Green

Missouri’s medical cannabis program has been almost universally praised as a stunning success. Here are five surprising innovations from local companies.

By Martin Cizmar | Photography by Chase Castor

In November 2018, Missouri voters cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing Missouri’s medical cannabis program. It took almost two years, until October 2020, to begin accepting patients. Eighteen months later, even in a time of extreme political polarization, the program has been almost universally regarded as a success by editorial boards and analysts.

Almost ten percent of new jobs in Missouri last year came from the industry, according to an analysis of state labor data done by a pro-cannabis trade group. Patients now buy—and pay taxes on—more than $20 million worth of cannabis a month.

In January, The Missouri Times, a newspaper that covers the state’s political news, published a guest editorial fawning over the program, which has served 165,000 patients, created six thousand jobs and led to almost four hundred facilities operating across the state.

More than two percent of Missouri’s population now has a medical marijuana card, putting the state next to Florida and Alaska on the top end of the national scale. (Nobody uses medical cannabis like Oklahoma: Nearly ten percent of the Sooner State’s population has a medical marijuana card, according to data kept by the Marijuana Policy Project.)

Many expected Kansas—one of only four states to have not decriminalized marijuana and surrounded on three sides by states with legal cannabis in some form—to implement some sort of reform this year. In January, those predictions were scuttled by Ty Masterson, a Republican from a small town outside Wichita. Masterson, the president of the state Senate, moved a bill authorizing a medical program into an obscure committee that he personally controls and then left it off the hearing schedule. If Kansas ends up delaying, it won’t be a surprise: Kansas was the first state to implement alcohol Prohibition and was the last to give it up, waiting until 1948 to legalize liquor.

In Jefferson City, it’s a very different story: A Republican from the St. Louis suburbs has introduced a bill to legalize cannabis in the Show-Me State, and several ballot initiatives are also in the early stages.

While the future of full legalization is still a little hazy, Missouri’s medical cannabis program has already spurred some surprising innovations. Here are five to know about.

Edibles take effect in just a few minutes and don’t overstay their welcome

For new and novice cannabis users, edibles are an appealing option, says Seth Galusha, the director of edible production for Kansas City’s Nuthera Labs, which makes products for local dispensary chain Fresh Karma—but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

“Edibles are often an entry point because it’s a little less intimidating than smoking,” Galusha says. “But it’s actually the most difficult to dose.”

The problem with traditional cannabis-infused foods—usually made by cooking the plant in butter or oil, then using that butter or oil in a normal recipe—is that the effects can take hours to begin and linger much longer than is desired. There’s also a risk that the cannabis molecules clump together and two cookies from the same batch end up with wildly different amounts of THC in them.

Galusha has found a solution to this: nanoemulsion. Nuthera has pioneered a specialized blending technique that breaks the cannabis molecules down below fifty nanometers, much smaller than is water-soluble. This puts them at the forefront worldwide.

“The smaller the molecule, the faster it can be absorbed,” Galusha says. “We’re able to verify our particle size, which I don’t think anyone else has been able to do. That’s something you would expect from a pharmaceutical company but you wouldn’t expect from a cannabis company.”

The product is called Fast Acting EDBLS gummies and is due to launch on April 18, just in time for April 20, celebrated worldwide as a holiday in the cannabis community. 

The new fast-acting gummies take effect in three to fifteen minutes and only last two to four hours. Short-lived and potent highs are what most medical patients want, and having that come without a patient needing to inhale anything is a game-changer. 

“It’s like taking a dab—an edible dab,” he says.

Customers are starting to move away from “percentage shopping”

In the earliest days of Missouri’s medical program, patients tended to gravitate toward products advertising the highest-tested percentage of THC. That’s changed as they’ve become more informed, says Corey Rimmel, co-owner of Feel State, a franchise with locations in KC and St. Louis.

Feel State has been working to keep prices down—some dispensaries charge two or three times street price, and Feel State’s menu has some products at roughly street prices—and has employees sometimes spend an hour counseling patients on the right product.

In the end, the smell of the flower is what ends up being the best indicator. Even when the flower tests as being less potent, those other compounds, called terpenes, add to the effects in what Feel State calls “the ensemble effect” (others call it the entourage effect).

“If you like the smell, you’re probably going to like the product,” he says. “It all works together, like a band—one plus one equals three. A lot of people still shop based on what has the highest THC percentage, but that’s like going to a liquor store and buying Everclear.”

It’s also worth noting that everyone we talked to for this story discouraged “percentage shopping”—not least because those percentages aren’t a very good indicator of strength. They are based on the tests taken from a tiny part of the flower which doesn’t always mean the rest of that plant has similar strength.

You can get a medical card without having to talk to anyone

Faisal Ansari is not only the co-founder of MMJRecs, a service that helps Missouri patients get their medical marijuana cards online. He’s also a patient himself. 

Ansari partnered with a childhood friend, who is a practicing orthopedic surgeon, to start the company in February 2015, after Ansari’s own battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“When I had and was going through chemotherapy, the side effects were just crazy,” he says. “Each pill, each medicine, has its own side effects. Anytime I would take a pill that would fix something, it would break something else. I smoked a lot of weed and it helped me a lot, and it didn’t do anything else.”

What makes MMJRecs special is that they offer “fully remote asynchronous consultations.” That means that all a prospective patient has to do is fill out a form that includes about twenty questions in their doctor-patient portal. The doctor can follow up with more questions as needed. Otherwise, they pass their recommendations on to the state system for approval. It takes twenty minutes to fill out the form and a week or two for the state to approve. The cost varies by where you access the portal—local dispensary chain NatureMed was MMJRecs’ first partner in Missouri and, as of press time, offers $25 consultations. The state collects another $25, bringing the total to $50. 

“We started in California and slowly moved into states that allowed medical marijuana and allowed telemedicine,” Ansari says. “With Covid hitting, a lot of states streamlined things on telemedicine, which has been good for us and for patients.”

You can have cannabis delivered

When Riverside Wellness, which is situated in the little town of Riverside northwest of the city, got its license, they knew they wanted to do delivery. There was “no trepidation on our part at all,” says Mary Ann Denzer, the company’s COO. They thought others were likely to do the same. As it worked out, they became the first in the state.

Patients simply order online—anything on the menu is available—and pay as they would for a delivery pizza. They can tip the driver, who they must greet and show their card. Discretion was a concern for many because early delivery customers were mostly motivated by mobility issues or because “they have kids and don’t want to take them through the drive-thru.”

“People worry whether the Cheech and Chong van is going to pull up to their house,” says Denzer. “We have just a little silver Kia Rio. Nobody will know unless you want them to know.”

While the delivery started for people who don’t leave the house regularly, it’s now “really busy on snow days—anytime the weather is too hot, too cold. Once they try it once, we see it again and again.”

Cannabis is going to war with tobacco

Dylan Buddeke, director of cultivation for Greenlight dispensaries, which has its own farms, wants to quit smoking tobacco. He’s been weaning himself off cigarettes with the help of a product that Greenlight just started selling as “filtered smokes.”

“I was a pretty standard pack-a-day smoker,” he says. “Now I smoke a pack a week, if that, mostly at work when I can’t use the darts.”

“Darts” and “cannadarts” are the company’s internal codename for their filtered, low-THC prerolls, which look and smell like a cigarette. The product was soft-launched in late February and is intended to help people stop smoking.

“You’re not smoking to get high,” says Paul Chapman, Greenlight’s director of cultivation operations. “You’re smoking to replace the habit. They look like cigarettes, they smell like cigarettes. It’s enough to curb his cravings and break the habit. You’ve got to want to quit smoking, but this will help with the habitual part.”

It’s not just cigarettes, either—Greenlight also makes a product aimed at chewing tobacco users called Cowboy Cannabis Mint Chew as part of a program they call the Great American Spit Out.

“It’s a one-ounce container, just like a can of Skol,” says Chapman. “Everything in there is organic and it’s all cannabis.”