Medical marijuana is the law of the land in Missouri. Nothing is going to change that.
Police officers are kidding themselves if they think they can stop its spread, but advocates for medical cannabis are equally unrealistic about the limits of this new product in Missouri.
We’re not talking about moral or medical limits. Save that for another day. We’re talking about the business of medical marijuana.
Simply put, this industry is not and will never be like Starbucks or McDonald’s. There will never be a dispensary on every street corner, nor is every large city entitled to its own cultivation facility.
That’s because medical marijuana operates in a legal, regulated marketplace alongside a parallel, illegal black market. This makes medical marijuana unlike any other product in existence, something to keep in mind as the state awards licenses for dispensaries and cultivation or manufacturing facilities.
The Department of Health and Senior Services is keenly interested in regulating supply so that the price of medical marijuana, when it becomes widely available, will be in equilibrium with the price for illegal recreational marijuana. Price it too high and the state violates a constitutional mandate to make medical cannabis available to low-income Missourians.
But price it too low and the product gets diverted to the black market, at a tremendous profit. Here’s the explanation from a market study conducted at the University of Missouri’s Economic and Policy Analysis Research Center:
“The goal is to find the number of licensed cultivators, infused product manufacturers and dispensaries so that the price of medical marijuana lies in a Goldilocks zone: not too low so as to induce participants to opt for the extraordinary marginal gains from the illegal recreational market and not too high so that low-income qualified patients can(not) afford the treatment.”
That means the state can’t have too many dispensaries and cultivation facilities, only enough to meet demand as the Missouri market gets off the ground.
Some will say that the answer is to legalize recreational pot, but this is fanciful. In states with legal recreational marijuana, an illegal black market still exists and even thrives. In California, a state that legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, illegal sellers outnumber licensed dealers by a 3-to-1 margin. Last month, California authorities raided 24 unlicensed shops and seized nearly $9 million in illegal marijuana products.
Big Marijuana may have cultivated an easygoing and carefree image, but the reality is quite different in Missouri and every other place with state-sponsored cannabis: lawyers, regulators, out-of-town investors and lots of rules and limits.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.