By Keegan Williams

Missouri was among the five states to vote on recreational cannabis proposals during last year’s midterm elections. Unlike Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, Missouri and Maryland voters said yes to adult-use cannabis.

Missouri is no stranger to the plant. The state approved medical cannabis back in 2018, and 53.1% of voters approved their respective cannabis legalization initiative, Amendment 3. Unlike most other states, which may take years to begin recreational sales, Missouri’s retail market has already launched, as the new law fleshed out details for the impending retail market along with a system for licensure.

What does the law say?

Amendment 3 amends the Missouri Constitution to legalize the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacture, and sale of cannabis for personal use for adults over 21 years of age. Adults are allowed to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis, and Missouri residents can apply for a $100 personal cultivation license to grow plants at home. Valid for one year, the license allows one qualifying patient to cultivate up to six flowering cannabis plants, six non-flowering cannabis plants (over 14 inches tall) and six clones (plants under 14 inches tall), within an enclosed and locked facility.

Additionally, the law allows individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to petition to be released from incarceration and/or have their records expunged. It also creates a lottery process for a limited number of business licenses, divided equally among congressional districts, and establishes microbusiness licenses prioritizing low-income and disadvantaged applicants. 

What’s the status?

Missouri was swift in getting its retail market up and rolling. Cannabis possession first became legal on December 8, 2022, and the first licensed sales occurred February 3, 2023, just 87 days after the vote. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services began accepting applications from medical cannabis dispensaries looking to convert their operations to comprehensive dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis — one critical reason for market launch’s quick turnaround.

The first weekend’s sales were strong, as Missouri raked in $12.6 million in adult-use and medical sales. Andrew Mullins, Missouri Cannabis Trade Association executive director, said in a news release that the industry worked adamantly to prepare for the launch, though he said he “would have never imagined this type of reception.”

“These opening weekend sales numbers are a testament to what a great program the Missouri Department of Health has run as well as the level of excitement we see from Missourians about cannabis legalization,” Mullins added. “The best is yet to come.”

Looking Ahead

It appears that Missouri’s decision to quickly launch its recreational cannabis program has paid off. The state surpassed $1 billion in legal cannabis sales (medical and recreational) on May 2, 2023, according to the Missouri Division of Cannabis Regulations (MDCR). In its first three months of adult recreational cannabis sales, Missouri sold $256.2 million in adult-use cannabis and $94 million in medical cannabis ($350.2 million total), according to MDCR figures. Illinois, which has twice the population of Missouri, only sold a total of $188.1 million in legal cannabis sales during the first three months of adult-use sales from January to March 2020.

Regulators have now turned their attention to cannabis expungements. The June 8 deadline for the state’s circuit courts to complete expungement has already come and gone, but according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, more than 44,000 cannabis cases, along with 10,000 felony convictions, were expunged before the deadline. It’s admittedly a bit of a hiccup in an otherwise smooth rollout, but the future is bright for Missouri’s still-young recreational cannabis industry. Should the success continue, it may even set the precedent for future states to quickly get their respective markets up and moving in just a matter of months.