Lyndall Fraker, Missouri’s director of the Medical Marijuana program, reiterated promises that the state will revoke licenses for the 37 cultivators and many other manufacturers and dispensaries not operating by September 30. In our quarterly interview with the state’s top regulator, Fraker also claims the state is not conducting a coordinated legal strategy to limit licenses, despite the state’s strong opposition in courts.
The following interview is edited for grammar and clarity.
Grown In: When we spoke in December, you said you aim to have thirty cultivators operating. We’re still not at that goal. What do you assess as the problem?
Lyndall Fraker: I’ve been out and about touring some facilities. Just got back actually last night from a little tour and, you know, in visiting with most of the licensees I think they’re really getting very, very close. Most of them that I’ve talked with are probably looking at some time by the end of August. Numerous things, in many cases truthfully delays from getting merchandise or getting building supplies. We’ve heard stories of just ordering windows or ordering equipment for various facilities and the delay that it’s taken. So, I would say that’s probably one of the biggest things. Some of them might have gotten delayed from the start, whether it’s the COVID situation back a year ago, or whatever.
But, the good news is that the majority of all that we’ve licensed appear to be on track now, to be able to be fully up and going within the next few months. And I think that’s the good news.
Grown In: Okay, August. August is when we should be watching to turn the corner, you say.
Fraker: Well, I think by August 30th and then I think we have another set that have been scheduled – we’ve allowed them up to September 30th. So to be safe, let’s say September 30th. I think that’s one of the furthest extension dates that we’ve issued at this point. So yeah, I think you’re going to see several approved to operate by then.
Grown In: Last month I visited a dispensary just over the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Illinois. It was very, very busy and I saw lots and lots of Missouri plates in the parking lot. What do you make of the fact that so many Missourians are purchasing recreational cannabis but the medical use in Missouri is climbing at a much slower rate than other states have historically?
Fraker: When did you say that was, Mike?
Grown In: About three weeks ago.
Fraker: Three weeks. Yeah. Well, you’ve probably seen the sales figures for, you know, the month of June. We had a tremendous increase. And as we continue to put these facilities online, it’s helping with competition as far as the pricing. I saw everyday pricing yesterday at thirty-five to forty dollars for an eighth. Now that may be some of the lower THC content product. But still, we hadn’t seen $35 eighths until just this trip actually, on a regular pricing situation.
So, we also have done a survey. I’m going to say, it’s been probably sixty days ago now, but at least 45 days ago, comparing our prices with Illinois. And believe it or not: Our pricing on an eighth was less than Illinois. I think ours was at that time, $54 and some odd cents and theirs was up at like $59.
We know that the more product availability, the more competitive we will be. And obviously, there are still people that are honest that, you know, if they’re not a medical [patient] and they want to purchase recreationally somewhere else, that’s up to them. But, you know, as far as our medical program, we think that things are ramping up pretty well, and doing what we believe that it’s supposed to be doing.
Grown In: Do you expect your administration will support or oppose a referendum for legal recreational use?
Fraker: I don’t think we’ll take a stance on that. I’m very confident we won’t.
Grown In; Okay. So, the state has thirty-eight revoked licenses now. When can we expect those to be redistributed?
Fraker: Well, a lot of it will depend on how we meet those minimum standards. We certainly have to make sure that we meet that and that’s our goal. We know that with those said minimum standards, minimum quantities. By meeting those minimum numbers we know that there will be an ample supply of product out there for up towards three hundred thousand patients. And, you know, we expect to be at a hundred and eighty thousand patients by this time next year. So, it’ll be a long time before we would need more facilities than the minimum.
But to answer your question more clearly, it’s just a matter of working through getting all the facilities up and going and, you know, we’ve issued a couple extra since the initial licensing period for the census increase. So there’ll be those kinds of things to still deal with in the next few months. But I don’t have any definite time.
Grown In: As you are considering the licenses to be reissued you are closely watching how well the current patient population is served, is that what you would say?
Fraker: Yeah, I think so. I think you would find if you look at a map and if you go around the state, we already have facilities with access, I believe, within an hour of anywhere in the state already. The dispensaries are of course the key element there because that’s the only facility patients can visit. And with 129, I believe it is, facilities operating dispensary-wise.
It’s pretty remarkable that they’re scattered around the state the way they are already at this time.
But something else, I failed to mention, we have reissued and filled some of those revocation licenses. So the 38 is not really a true number now.
Grown In: All right, I’d love to follow up to learn more about which of those have been reissued, would be great.
When you’re thinking about making sure the patients are served, you mention distance to a dispensary as being one of the criteria. Do you have other criteria that you consider, like say price of product? Availability of product? Are those also in your criteria?
Fraker: Well of course. The Constitution says “meet the demand”. So, you can read into that whatever you like. But I can tell you, I was in a dispensary this week that had, I believe it was eighteen strands of flowering product available, and every time I go out, and I’ve been going out almost every week, we hear and see much more availability from the operators, from the from the cultivators, and from the manufacturing facilities. You know we have over thirty manufacturers now producing and it’s remarkable how many lines now I see in dispensaries of brands of manufactured products all over the state. Whereas, you know, 90 days ago, you may have only seen a couple in a dispensary.
I think the selection, the availability, we’re not seeing any issues. As a matter of fact, we had that discussion this week as we were out. People [are] getting product. I was in a cultivation facility that actually has an excess or a buildup of some product on hand right now. And these harvests are in full swing in those twenty-three facilities that are operating, turning that product almost weekly believe it or not.
It’s getting much, much better. And, I think that’s the reason we’re seeing the proof in the pudding. That’s the reason we’re seeing the sales numbers where they are.
Grown In: I know you can’t comment on specific cases, but the state has unilaterally opposed creating new licenses as well as requests to make it easier to obtain capital. Is the administration conducting a legal strategy to oppose the expansion of the cannabis industry in Missouri?
Fraker: I don’t know of any organized effort or anything. That’s what you’re trying to imply. We’re just trying to fulfill the will of the voters by upholding what the Constitution says. No, I don’t know of any strategy that’s being looked at or anything like that.
Grown In: Is there anything that you want to tell me, that I should know about? Fraker: We still have more facilities than any other medical state except Oklahoma, per capita. I just think that our program is really blossoming and coming into its own now and it’s nice to see some of the good positive stories out there and I think have in the last couple of weeks and we appreciate that. Because we got some folks working really hard, both in our department and out in the facilities that are, you know, trying to have a really good, well regulated program. It’s been a long haul to get here but we’re really proud of what we have going right now.