As the City of Excelsior Springs worked to approve the local ordinances governing the use of medical marijuana, City officials held a listening post and encouraged all those who approve and oppose cannabis to discuss their concerns.
Forest Palmer said he first encountered the medical marijuana industry after leaving the United States Marines at the age of 21. He said at that time he lived in California where a cousin owned a dispensary. Because he dealt with some health issues back then, he said his cousin helped him acquire medical marijuana.
“I was a believer before that, but I was just the kind of believer that it was for other people, it wasn’t for me,” Palmer said.
He currently works as Manager of Dispensary Operations for Kansas City Cannabis Company, an organization that hopes to place dispensaries in Excelsior Springs, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs. The company also hopes to place two cultivation facilities and one extraction facility in North Kansas City.
Palmer said his organization chose the locations due to their proximity to other locations, thus allowing more residents access to medical marijuana.
At the listening post, Palmer and others hoping to gain dispensary licenses addressed resident concerns of medical marijuana with City officials and representatives of the Excelsior Springs SAFE organization.
Palmer said often no one but members of his organization shows up to such meetings. Having those with opposing views helped discuss both sides of the issue.
“A lot of times, we are the only ones who show up so we can’t show people we are legitimate, we’re not just a bunch of drug dealers,” Palmer said.
He found it nice that others with various viewpoints came, he said, because his organization wants to hear people out.
Youth use concerns
Julia Mees, program director for Substance Abuse-Free Environments, said the concerns shared by members of the organization include making sure the public stays aware of the potential harms of marijuana, specifically to youth.
“Marijuana use in youth harms the developing brain, increases the likelihood of mental illness and suicide and makes one more susceptible to addiction to other substances in the future,” she said.
Because marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, Palmer said the United States does not recognize the opposing, pro-cannabis research. Other countries including Israel, Amsterdam and Spain conduct such research. He said it all comes down to what the law allows them to use as fact.
Regardless, he said, when it comes down to an 18-year-old who can legally obtain a marijuana use card, it comes down to weighing the pros and cons of every medication. If they have 60 seizures per day and marijuana helps them, they may choose to use regardless of the possible side effects.
Mees said, although Amendment 2 legalized medical marijuana, the SAFE coalition wants to encourage parents to talk with their kids about these potential harms of marijuana. Because those 18 and over can legally obtain medical marijuana, she said, it becomes extremely important for teens to understand the harms.
Mees said Amendment 2 does not require a pharmacist, nurse, doctor or another medical professional to remain on-site at a dispensary.
The dispensing of marijuana will be different than the Federal Drug Administration approved pharmaceuticals.
“While a doctor must approve a patient for a medical marijuana card, a doctor does not write a prescription for marijuana,” she said. “A doctor is not required to write a specific dose, potency, or type of marijuana. The budtender (dispensary worker) helps a patient make these decisions; the training required for a budtender is extremely limited.”
Palmer said KCC’s dispensaries employ health and wellness specialists. These specialists will point first-time medical marijuana buyers toward the best product that will meet their needs.
He said when a customer enters one of their dispensaries, they will notice no product immediately in view. They will present their patient identification card and valid state-issued identification to the budtender in the window. They will then sit and wait until employees call their name. A security guard will be the only other employee stationed in the lobby, he said.
The budtender will enter a system maintained by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to verify the information.
Later, as the customer enters the sales floor, they will present their information again to their personal budtender.
First-timers will then see the health and wellness professional who will answer any questions and provide needed information. Those who know what product they need can simply tell the budtender, who will then get the labeled and tracked package.
Palmer said they must keep the tracking numbers on hand for five years.
The dispensaries will keep two licensed pharmacists on staff for consultations, along with the two health and wellness specialists. They will also have two registered nurses on staff.
All of these staff members will receive pharmacology of every product the dispensary sells. They will also receive pharmacology of the medications that interact negatively with marijuana.
Each location will receive a reference packet developed by the pharmacists for the health and wellness specialists to keep on hand for more difficult questions. The RNs will also receive cannabis certifications from the state of California. These certifications will integrate the RNs’ health career with their canibus career, Palmer said.
Their edible products will be regulated to ensure the even distribution of them by a third-party laboratory.
According to Excelsior’s ordinance, dispensaries shall use the operating hours of 8 a.m. - 9 p.m., Monday – Sunday. City officials chose the operating hours partially due to security concerns with the cash-only nature of the business.
KCC’s dispensaries will also do regular cash drops with their security team, Palmer said. Their security will be maintained by Armor Fi, a military and law enforcement owned and operated security company.
“They do not have a single person who does not have military or law enforcement background,” he said.
They will keep an armed security guard on-site, he said. If the guard cannot be there, the dispensary will not open. They also will have 24-hour monitored cameras installed and the vault will double as a safe room for employees and staff.
According to the city’s ordinance, locations of the medical marijuana facilities will be limited to certain locations within Excelsior. In addition, no medical marijuana facility will be allowed within 1,000 feet of any religious institution, school or licensed day-care or youth facility.
Economic Development Director Melinda Mehaffy said she describes this distance as the shortest legal walking distance. To calculate the required 1,000 feet, officials measure the distance along sidewalks and crosswalks.
Palmer said the location of the facilities does not matter to him. He wants to stay true to what the community wants. He would have been fine with a longer required distance between the facilities and such religious institution, school or licensed day-care or youth facility, he said. However, the amendment’s authors noted 1,000 feet to be the maximum distance permitted by law.
When the SAFE representatives wanted them to acknowledge the 1,000 required feet, he said, “at KCC, we’re definitely on board with that because we want the community to feel we’re as integrated as possible.”
Also, Palmer said KCC implements other security measures to help the community feel safe. They lock all product into a vault at the end of business hours, he said.
Mees said she appreciates Palmer and the KCC taking some of SAFE’s concerns into consideration when planning potential dispensaries. However, she said, it can’t be assumed every marijuana facility owner in the future will have similar concerns.
“In my opinion, Amendment 2 allowed very little local control of medical marijuana facilities,” she said. “ ... I think Excelsior’s new ordinance shows that it is doing what it can to prioritize prevention. I feel that our community leaders have heard the concerns of citizens to keep substance use prevention a high priority.”