With over 74,000 registered patients and not a single bud sold, Missouri defines “pent up demand” for medical cannabis consumption. While sixty cultivator licenses were issued by the state in January, Earth City-based and vertically-integrated BeLeaf Medical has been one of the first cultivators ready to provide product to the six dispensaries currently certified by the state, including their own store in the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters. Now that Missouri regulators have certified a testing facility as well, BeLeaf will be some of the first product on Missouri shelves.
“We’ve been waiting for this for three years. We’re not scared, we’re excited. I think when we open our first dispensaries, if we’re one of the first to open, we’ll have 79,000 people in line,” says CEO Mitch Meyers. “You need to make sure you have product for people when they show up. I want to make sure we have happy customers who drove a long way, not for them to end up empty handed. We saw that in Illinois and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
It’s perhaps no accident that BeLeaf is one of the first Missouri cannabis companies ready to serve customers, since it’s led by Meyers, an already legendary figure in St. Louis, as she created the Spuds McKenzie character for Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light beer. After operating and selling her own marketing consulting firm, Meyers became a co-owner of the Nature’s Care medical dispensary in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, now operated by multi-state operator Acreage Holdings. She’s also been operating a cannabis consulting firm, cannabis market intelligence group, and a hemp farm since it was legalized in Missouri in 2016.
As a result, Meyers seems to have a bead on exactly what her company should be doing.
“Older people are really interested in cannabis. They have spent their time with pharmaceutical drugs. As they get older, they are less inclined to take something as powerful as pharmaceuticals. Many are looking to CBD to mitigate pain or to help them sleep better,” Meyers said. “Then, they get the light bulb, ‘This is the cannabis they’re talking about!’ I think a lot of people think this is just 26-year olds getting high. That’s not what we’re seeing. Five years in the CBD lane, we were seeing very sick people getting treated.”
As they prepared for operations, BeLeaf’s team took advantage of information from the many other states already operating and built a data-driven analytics system of their own.
“Knowing what sells well in other states has worked for us. We’ve been studying [market analytics company] BDSA pretty closely. We look at strength and strain. It informs what we’re planting and has directed our manufacturing to produce what consumers are looking for around the country,” says Meyers.
Stephanie Cernicek, BeLeaf’s Chief Science Officer, and the executive leading up BeLeaf’s licensed manufacturing operations, says manufacturing should be starting soon and the company is deep into hiring mode.
“We’re going to have a wide variety of strains,” says Turnicek. “That will be translated into strain specific shatters and wax. We’ll also have other products: tinctures, gummies, edibles. It’s all very data driven. We look at the states and data, and we have internal systems so we can look at our own data in real time.”
Meyers expects the number of medical cannabis patients to grow quickly in Missouri, which has one of the most liberal cannabis patient definitions in the country.
“That number will go up dramatically. I think we’ll see 90,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year,” she said.
Meyers also notes that cannabis flower wholesale prices in Missouri are hovering around $4,500 a pound, an excellent incentive to grow as much product as possible. To take advantage of that, BeLeaf is hoping dispensaries other than theirs come online soon, since a large portion of BeLeaf’s strategy includes external sales from their Sinse cultivation brand and their Phytos Cannabis manufacturing brand.
“I’d say by the middle of next year, we will have a substantial amount of product we hope to sell to others,” said Meyers. “I don’t know if it’s fifty percent to our own versus to others, but we hope to build out our cultivation to maximum capacity, if the market will bear that.”