The state's billion-dollar marijuana market experienced a rollercoaster ride of emotions last week as health officials oscillated wildly on the status of thousands of recalled products.
It has been quite a momentous October for Missouri hemp and cannabis operators. In the past two weeks, a pair of lawsuits were brought by marijuana businesses in Buchanan and St. Louis Counties challenging the legality of "stacking taxes," in which a retail dispensary within the boundaries of an incorporated city must collect a county-imposed tax and any taxes approved by the municipality.
On the heels of those two contentious cases, Missouri-based cannabis executives and business owners are also dealing with the back-and-forth fallout over the status of 62,000 infused items recalled from store shelves this past August.
The drama began early last week when marijuana operators thought they had successfully turned a corner in a months-long story that has cost them millions of dollars in lost sales and inventory.
There was an initial sense of relief for business owners as state regulatory officials began clearing for sale thousands of vape pens, edibles, and other products removed over two months ago concerning the distillate they contained. However, according to multiple media outlets, the saga continues to drag out, creating confusion, frustration, and financial strain for industry stakeholders and consumers.
Those first optimistic feelings did not last long as by Friday morning, regulators once again barred those same products initially greenlit for sale from store shelves. Yet, by that afternoon, officials seemed to do another about-face and notified licensed retailers in the state that the state would again clear tens of thousands of items to sell on store shelves that day.
One of the companies dealing with the almost comical regulatory whiplash caused by the rapid and frenetic changes is the multistate operator Greenlight Dispensary. Greenlight's CEO, John Mueller, said he received an email from the state's Department of Cannabis Regulation midday Friday declaring that most of the "administrative hold products will be released on October 20, at which point they will be available for public sale."
While Mueller and other top executives hope the latest changes will allow their corporations to recoup some of the significant losses brought on by the recall, small to medium-sized businesses are most negatively impacted by the fallout.
The sector upheaval began in August when the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) recalled over 60,000 infused products containing distillate manufactured and sold by Missouri-based Delta Extractions and its affiliates. According to regulatory officials, the Robertsville-based processor was using untested "marijuana or converted hemp from outside of a Missouri licensed cultivation facility." And while Delta Extraction denies those accusations, state regulators did suspend the company's business license on August 2.
The issues currently confronting retailers and regulators do not come as a surprise to state officials. Early in the process, they alerted licensed companies to anticipate delays and hiccups as the various product recalls were lifted.
"The department has started the process of lifting some of the current administrative holds on product. During this process, some holds will be temporarily lifted and then re-established. Once the process is complete, we will provide information regarding what is permanently lifted and what will remain on hold," DHSS spokesperson Lisa Cox said via email last week.
"The department has started the process of lifting some of the current administrative holds on product. During this process, some holds will be temporarily lifted and then re-established. Once the process is complete, we will provide information regarding what is permanently lifted and what will remain on hold."
- Missouri DHSS spokesperson Lisa Cox
The whole situation has placed Missouri retailers under immense economic strain and uncertainty. Since August, many of them, along with crucial brands and other marijuana businesses, have put tens of thousands of infused cannabis products into vaults awaiting the go-ahead to sell again by state regulators. During that same, hundreds of other marijuana companies have been predominantly left in the dark, awaiting direction from officials.
Hopefully, the lion's share of delays, reversals, and contradictory reports have passed, and businesses can begin to get products back on shelves. The issue of safety is always a paramount concern, particularly with items as sensitive and polarizing as cannabis.
However, consistency and fairness must receive equal consideration when developing guidelines and procedures for handling tumultuous situations like a product recall. As the cannabis industry continues to grow and mature, incidents like these will need to become less common and better managed.