JEFFERSON CITY — A company hired to manage part of Missouri’s fledgling medical marijuana program is asking a judge to resolve what it says are conflicting messages from state officials that could affect how much money it makes on the deal.
Lakeland, Fla.-based Metrc, which already manages pot programs in 11 other states, won a five year, $5 million contract with the state earlier this year, outbidding 20 other companies seeking to oversee the licensing of companies and the tracking of cannabis from the seed stage to the sale of the finished product.
The fight to win the contract and eke out potentially added profits highlights the national interest in Missouri’s program. Companies from across the U.S. have descended on the state in hopes of winning potentially lucrative contracts and licenses to set up shop to grow, sell and test marijuana when it becomes legal next year.
Companies have hired high-powered lobbyists and started contributing money to politicians as they angle for a slice of the business.
Voters approved Amendment 2 in November, making Missouri the 33rd state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Sales are to start early next year. Tax proceeds and licensing fees are supposed to go into a newly created veterans health care fund, which is expected to generate about $20 million per year.
In some states, different companies handle the various aspects of operating a medical marijuana program. But Missouri wants one company to do most of the information technology set-up for its licensing and tracking system.
Under its bid, Metrc may have been able to submit a lower bid because it plans to charge separate fees to the growers and dispensaries — a maneuver that other bidders protested at the time.
The state agency that oversees most contracting in the state issued a ruling in May saying the contract would not allow Metrc to charge those fees, despite a separate rule issued by the Department of Health and Senior Services that said such fees would be allowed.
Metrc wants a Cole County judge to allow the fees to be charged.
“This court’s issuance of a declaratory judgment would terminate this controversy between the parties,” Metrc attorney Lowell Pearson said in the lawsuit filed late last week.
Missouri is required by law to approve at least 60 commercial growers, 86 facilities that manufacture marijuana-infused products and 192 dispensary licenses — 24 dispensaries for each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.
The St. Louis area will probably have more than 48 dispensaries. Two congressional districts cover St. Louis and St. Louis County and parts of St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties.
In defending its position on barring Metrc from collecting separate fees, the Office of Administration told the Post-Dispatch in May that officials don’t believe there was a problem with their decision.
“There is no conflict. The rule states that if the contract addresses pricing, then the contract terms govern. Here, OA has stated its position on the contract terms. However, the rule also covers a situation where a contract or the law does not address the pricing,” agency spokeswoman Brittany Ruess said.