How to Open A Dispensary in Missouri: Operating & Marketing in MO

Posted on April 28th, 2022 to Entrepreneurialism

Even though Missouri took a while longer than some to get here, the state finally authorized the launch of a medical cannabis program in 2018. As of 2021, there were 248 facilities, including 142 medical cannabis dispensaries across the state. To date, adult-use cannabis has not yet made it through legislation.

If you intend to step up to be part of the growing cannabis market in MO, you are likely wondering how to open a dispensary in Missouri. The process is a bit more complicated because MO does not leave license applications open at all times, and they are strictly a medical-use state. Below is a look at the steps you should take, what may be required along the way, and more.

How to Open a Dispensary in Missouri – Steps Required

In MO, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) oversees the medical cannabis program. The state of MO is open to receiving a limited number of applications for retail cannabis businesses according to minimums established by the DHSS. Therefore, you can only submit an application when the DHSS has an open application period.

Even though advocates are fighting to get a freer market in MO for cannabis dispensaries, there are no signs of the DHSS changing this rule just yet. With that being said, obtaining a retail cannabis dispensary license and opening a dispensary in MO can be exceptionally difficult. A trend in licenses being revoked over the last year is also something to point out. Retailers can have their licenses revoked if they don’t meet “commencement deadlines” set forth by the DHSS.

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In the event the state opens up to new cannabis business applicants, which is possible at any given time, it will be important to be well-prepared to get your application submitted as quickly as possible. Below is a look at the steps to take in advance and what you can expect with the licensing application.

1. Get to know MO laws and regulations

Make sure you are well-versed in all things related to the laws and regulations in Missouri surrounding medical cannabis. MO is a relative newcomer to the industry, so its laws and regulations are ever-changing. These laws may affect:

  • Who can apply for a retail dispensary license
  • Where the dispensary can be located and the characteristics of the building itself
  • How you name, portray, and market your cannabis dispensary
  • What types of cannabis products you can stock, including what suppliers you work with
  • How the business functions after opening, including how patients are identified

It is important to note that MO has an especially stringent policy on METRC (Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance). This is state-mandated tracking software that tracks cannabis transactions from seed to sale. Therefore, anyone looking to open a cannabis dispensary will need to have the proper POS systems and software in place to comply.

The better-versed you are with the cannabis laws, the more likely it will be that you make it through the application process. So keep tabs on local news sources and the DHSS website to get the latest information.

2. Create a business plan

A good business plan is a necessary component of opening a dispensary in MO; the DHSS actually requires this with your application. Plus, you will need a good business plan if you intend to seek outside funding. A good business plan should include several things, such as:

  • An executive overview or summary of the purpose of the business
  • Details about the dispensary location, including security implements and measures
  • Details about all people who have ownership in the business and their roles
  • Information about inventory sourcing and management
  • Marketing plans and projected or potential for revenue
  • Information regarding the value of the business for the surrounding community

3. Secure funding

As a prospect learning how to open a dispensary in Missouri, you should know up-front that funding the decision can be costly. Application fees alone for dispensary facilities are $6,000, with a $10,000 annual fee thereafter. Pair this cost with the costs required for your facility, inventory, necessary software and systems, and staffing, and you may need to seek additional funding.

It is also important to consider funding for marketing your new dispensary. For example, if you intend to set up a website, and want to utilize email marketing, or get help with dispensary SEO from a professional marketing agency, these are costs to consider.

4. Apply for an MO cannabis business license

To apply for a cannabis business license in MO, when the opportunity is open to doing so, you must have been a legal resident of the state for at least a year. Other criteria that must be met in order to apply include:

  • Must pass a character, background, and veracity test and have relevant cannabis experience
  • Must have a detailed business plan with details on how they will maintain a medical supply of cannabis
  • Must offer information on dispensary security
  • Must detail the economic and employment diversity benefits of the business
  • Must have a dispensary location that is accessible to patients
  • Must have either experience or capacity in healthcare
  • Must maintain a competitive medical cannabis marketplace

Applicants must also submit their fingerprints for registry with the DHSS and state of MO. Once an application is submitted, it may take up to 150 days to hear whether the application was approved or denied.

MO’s marketing and advertising regulations and prohibitions are not as in-depth as they can be in other states where recreational cannabis is legal. Nevertheless, a few rules do exist. Therefore, if you are marketing after opening your dispensary in Missouri, you do have to keep tabs on what is and is not allowed. Below is an overview of some of the most important things to keep in mind about marketing your MO medical cannabis dispensary.

Marketing Your Dispensary in Missouri

Dispensary marketing is notoriously complex in a lot of states. Whether you are building advertising plans for physical storefronts or placing ads and marketing materials on general advertising venues, you will run into legal restrictions. Many cannabis dispensaries opt for a robust digital marketing strategy to compensate for the advertising they can’t do in the real world.

Each state sets its own restrictions, laws, and prohibitions on cannabis marketing, and Missouri is no exception. Even though the state’s laws do not offer an extensive list of rules, there are a few important areas that all dispensary owners should know.

Signage and Advertising on Facility Premises

All signage and advertisements placed on the premises of a cannabis business must adhere to specific guidelines set forth by the state. Some of the most important rules about on-site signage to remember include:

  • Dispensaries cannot display a green cross symbol on the signage or building
  • Signage outdoors or visible from the outdoors cannot portray visual representations of cannabis plants, products, smoke, or paraphernalia
  • Signs must adhere to any local ordinances set forth by local governments

The only text that can be portrayed on an on-site dispensary sign includes the company logo (as long as it is not recognizable as something associated with cannabis), the trade name, the address, the phone number, and the website. No other text is allowed.

So far, the DHSS has not set rules on advertising and signage used off of the dispensary site, which means marketing digitally is not strictly governed just yet.

Words Used in a Dispensary’s Name

This one is important to remember when in the initial stages of bringing your cannabis brand to life. Certain words are specifically restricted and cannot be used as part of a dispensary’s brand name, such as:

  • Pharmacy or pharmacist
  • Apothecary or apothecary shop
  • Chemist shop
  • Drug store, druggist, or drugs
  • Consultant pharmacist

Discounts and Promotions

The state of Missouri did initially prohibit dispensaries from offering discounts and promotions in their advertising content. The reason for that initial decision was that the DHSS did not want cannabis to be disbursed by a dispensary specifically because of a promotion. In other words, the department didn’t feel certain products should be purchased for medicinal use purely based on promotional costs. However, these rules were revised at the end of 2021. The updated rules allow promotions for discounts to be published in advertisements as long as there is a disclaimer published alongside the ad that specifically states:

“Medical decisions should not be made based on advertising. Consult a physician on the benefits and risks of particular medical marijuana products.”

General Tips for Marketing Your Dispensary in Missouri

Even though MO has not established a firm set of guidelines just yet for marketing and advertising, there are a few good rules of thumb to follow. As revisions are made to policies and things are more clearly defined, it is good if you have already anticipated certain implements. Many states follow similar regulation guidelines set forth by other states. Therefore, a few good rules to adopt include:

  • Avoid advertising in a way that would be enticing to people under the legal age to purchase
  • Avoid misleading or falsified advertising that misuses available information
  • Avoid specifically stating certain products are better than others or your dispensary is better than others
  • Avoid placing ads in places, online or otherwise, where people underage would be exposed to the marketing effort

Need guidance on marketing your dispensary in Missouri?

When it comes to the ever-evolving cannabis business, the old adage of “the only thing constant is change” couldn’t be more true. The laws and regulations are continually getting revised, which is bound to be the case in Missouri as the relatively new market evolves. We keep up with the changes and nuances to keep you compliant while supporting the growth of your dispensary brand.

If you need help navigating through current restrictions and marketing your dispensary in Missouri, reach out to us at CannaPlanners. From building your website to helping with email marketing and dispensary SEO, we’ve got you covered.

VP Digital Marketing, CMO

This post was written by Zach Santarsiero.

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