COLUMBIA - Medical marijuana sales in Missouri are above $160 million since its legalization in October 2020.

Nearly 17% of medical cards in Missouri are for mental health reasons, like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Dispensaries like Green Releaf in Columbia see dozens of patients everyday. After receiving a medical marijuana license, patients can enter any dispensary in Missouri and place an order with one of the company’s “bud-tenders." 

Andrew Nussbaum is a Green Releaf assistant manager and handles daily dispensary customers. He explained what working at a dispensary has been like since medical marijuana’s first sale in October 2020. 

“A lot of people come in looking for things to deal with mainly pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression, pretty much all things relating back to mental health,” Nussbaum said. “I would say maybe around 35% of people come in for conditions relating to [mental health].” 

More than 3.6 million people around the country are estimated to be legal medical cannabis users. According to a study from the American Psychological Association, patients using medical marijuana for anxiety and depression were found to have “reduced clinical symptoms and a reduced use of opioids.” 

Missouri legalized medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot, with its first legal sale being in October 2020.

Lyndall Franker is the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' medical marijuana section. He explained how the process of legalizing medical marijuana has come since November 2018. 

“Things are moving pretty fast, our patient count is over 150,000 patients now in less than a three year period,” Franker said. “The number one category [why people use medical cannabis] is for psychological dependence on things like narcotics and opioids, where doctors determine medical marijuana may be a good alternative for that.” 

Nationally, drug overdose deaths reached over 100,000 since April 2021, making it a record high with a 28.5% increase since last year. Franker explained the benefits he sees to the legalization of medical marijuana. 

“It’s just a good option for people who maybe have tried other things,” Franker said. “We want to make sure we have a very patient focused, safe and regulated program, and from what I’ve learned in this position so far, is that the alternative to use marijuana in place of a narcotic, that can improve their life.”

Missouri is one of 39 states in the country to have legalized medical marijuana. People who meet the qualifying conditions can apply for a medical card: 

  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Severe migraines unresponsive to other treatments
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Psychiatric medical conditions

Unlike the other qualifying medical conditions, applying for a medical marijuana card for mental health use requires an additional step. Patients must be referred first by a primary doctor, then referred again from a psychiatrist approving mental health reasons for using medical cannabis. 

Savannah Foose is the general manager of Green Releaf. She explained the impact she’s seen the dispensary have in the last year since it’s official open in December of 2020. 

“I do know a high percentage of our patients have mental health problems, and you can just see a day and night difference with them,” Foose said. “We definitely get to see an improvement transformation from beginning to end, you can visibly see how it in how they move, talk, walk, everything. It’s an amazing thing.”

DHSS does not advocate for medical marijuana as an option, instead leaving it up to doctors and their patients to make that decision. Franker explained how the federal legality of medical marijuana has posed some challenges to the state. 

“The federal government has left it up to the states as whether they want to legalize [medical marijuana], and I think that’s where the confusion comes from,” Franker said. “I think it would be helpful if the federal government would go ahead and legalize it, similar to a prescription drug, where it can be tested through the FDA.”

As the assistant manager and a “bud-tender” for Green Releaf, Nussbaum also has his medical marijuana card. He opened up about his struggles with mental health and sleep deprivation. 

“I mainly use it for insomnia and [medical marijuana] helps me sleep really well, and it’s just really been a relief,” Nussbaum said. “With it being in a professional setting, you actually have the knowledge and know that products are not contaminated and it’s a lot safer.” 

Missouri DHSS has an entire webpage dedicated to medical marijuana eligibility and information.  

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