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Missouri didn’t launch medical cannabis sales until October 16, 2020, but a report released earlier this month revealed the extent to which authorized patients were lined up for access.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) issued 56,448 new patient licenses and 12,062 renewed patient licenses between Dec. 6, 2019, and Dec. 5, 2020, according to the department’s second annual report on Missouri’s Medical Marijuana Regulatory Program.

DHSS approved more than 23,000 patients and caregivers in the 2019 program year — before commercial sales began — with about 33% also approved for home cultivation. That year, home growers in Missouri had 7,276 patients and 298 caregivers.

But with the launch of the state’s first medical cannabis sales last October, the number of approved patients increased by approximately 200% in 2020. Additionally, the number of approved caregivers increased from 563 to 2,146 and home growers from 7,574 to 19,831.

DHSS is required by law to report annually to the governor regarding the effective discharge of its responsibilities.

“It is an honor to be a part of the great success of this new medical industry in Missouri,” said Lyndall Fraker, director of the medical cannabis section at DHSS, in a press release on August 19, when the second annual report has been published.

“I continue to be amazed at how hard our team works to help our facilities provide this alternative medicine to the state’s rapidly growing patient base,” he said. “Our goal is to provide a safe, well-regulated, patient-focused program unrivaled in our great country. Our success is undeniable proof that we achieved this goal in a timely manner, fulfilling all of our constitutional obligations as decided by the citizens of the great state of Missouri.

Sixty-five percent of Missouri voters passed Amendment 2 to legalize medical cannabis in the November 2018 election. A month later, it was added to the Missouri Constitution, granting DHSS the authority and responsibility to create a well-regulated program to ensure availability and safe access to medical cannabis.

Including Missouri, 21 states have implemented medical cannabis laws since 2005, according to DHSS. While the national implementation average is 29 months, Missouri implemented its program in just over 23 months. Only five states implemented programs faster: Pennsylvania (22), New York (18), Utah (16), Minnesota (13) and Oklahoma (4), according to the DHSS.

The fastest state in the nation to implement an effective medical cannabis program, Oklahoma had approximately 376,000 registered patients at the start of the month. Voters approved State Question 788 on the legalization of medical cannabis on June 26, 2018.

Missouri, by comparison, had 69,387 registered patients in December 2020. Of those patients, the most common eligible medical condition listed was a physical or psychological dependence on another drug, with 20,988 people checking that box.

Meanwhile, 17,492 patients with undefined chronic conditions were the second most common. Psychiatric disorders accounted for 11,914 patients. Migraines accounted for 3,843 patients. And those with terminal illnesses, such as cancer, accounted for 2,304 of eligible patients.

30 to 39 year olds accounted for 24.7% of patients, while 40 to 49 year olds (20.2%), 50 to 59 year olds (18%), 60 to 69 year olds (16.9%), 18 to 29 year olds (15.1%) and those 70 and over (4.7%) followed suit. Those aged 17 and under accounted for 0.3% of patients.

As of December 2019, DHSS issued licenses to all types of medical cannabis facilities after reviewing over 2,000 applications. As of December 2020, 192 dispensary licenses have been issued, along with licenses for 86 manufacturing facilities and 60 cultivation facilities. However, as of December 2020, only 17 dispensaries, one manufacturer, and 10 cultivation facilities had completed a DHSS launch inspection and received final authorization to operate.

The 192 licensed dispensary licenses in Missouri represent approximately 3.1 dispensaries per 100,000 residents in the state, which is third behind Oklahoma (51.8 dispensaries per 100,000) and New Mexico (5.2 dispensaries per 100,000) among the 21 states that have implemented programs since 2005, according to DHSS data compiled from August 2020. Oklahoma, which had as many as 2,325 dispensaries at the start of the month, and New Mexico have unlimited licensing systems.

During the current and future program years, DHSS will continue to monitor facilities’ progress and their ability to meet patient needs, according to the news release.

“We will continue to seek public engagement and transparency, which have always been key to the success of this program, and further develop consistent regulation, enforcement and education to ensure it is successful in delivering safe and secure access to medical marijuana for eligible Missouri patients,” Fraker said.

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