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The weed business is coming to Missouri? Will minorities benefit?

Activists claim stringent requirements attached to Missouri’s new legal medical cannabis business mean poor, black communities the most affected by discriminatory enforcement of past marijuana laws could be shut out of the potentially lucrative legal medical marijuana trade.

But organizers of Missouri’s first medical marijuana trade show, coming to Union Station in downtown St. Louis in March, say the sheer number of dispensary and cultivation licenses to be granted means urban entrepreneurs should have a decent chance to be part of the business.

Missouri voters approved legalizing medical marijuana in November. On Monday, March 11 and Tuesday, March 12, the Medical Cannabis Business Conference and Expo will have speakers going over the new law, and exhibits from various companies involved in the medical cannabis industry. Despite federal laws against marijuana cultivation and use, 39 states have now either legalized marijuana for recreation use, or for medical purposes.

“By June 4, the Missouri Department of Health has to have applications ready to go both for patients who might want to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription, and for people who want to be involved in the industry,” said Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, or MO Cann Trade. “They have to start processing applications by August, and the entire system should be up and running by 2020, next year.”

Cardetti claims the sheer number of licenses to be granted means everyone, including minority communities, should have a shot. “The state must give out at least 61 cultivation licenses to grow, they must give out at least 80 infused product licenses to make oils or edibles, and there must be at least 192 dispensaries across the state,” he said. “That’s the minimum. The Department of Health can give out more than that.”

But some activists and lawmakers are dubious. State Representative Brandon Ellington, who represents part of metro Kansas City, said “A majority of my constituents are disadvantaged in the medical marijuana license process because they don’t meet the criteria of already ‘having experience in a legal cannabis industry’. I’m fighting those restrictions to ensure a fair playing field for all Missourians.”

Currently, Missouri’s medical marijuana law has nine criteria that can be considered for owning a dispensary or an infusion or growing center, and one of them is that the applicant has previous experience in the legal marijuana industry. While lawmakers fight to overturn that requirement, Cardetti says another part of the new law should help low-income entrepreneurs.

“In Missouri, there is no minimum cash requirement,” he said. “In some states, you must show that you have available liquid assets of x-amount. That’s not in Missouri law. We don’t expect a minimum cash requirement to be in the final regulations, and that’s important, because that’s another major barrier to entry.”

Nationwide, only about one per-cent of medical or recreation cannabis dispensaries are owned by African-Americans, fewer than 40 among over 3,000 dispensaries nationwide. Whether that small percentage will hold true in Missouri depends upon the State Department of Health final regulations.

Meanwhile, potential businesspeople, patients, and the merely curious will be able to get their first inside look at Missouri’s newest industry March 11 and 12.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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