Andrew Mullins, Executive Director of MoCannTrade, gives us a ground-level view of the upcoming Missouri microbusiness licensing process, as well as an overall update on the cannabis market in the state. Andrew talks about how the licensing process will work and why he thinks Missouri will avoid the chicanery and lawsuits that other states have dealt with. He also discusses the current market, including how shifting to a hybrid adult-use and medical market has gone, and why operators don’t have to worry too much about the legacy market.
How MoCannTrade Association came into existence?
Eric – Thanks for joining us today. We have Andrew Mullins from MoCannTrade. I’m the CEO of Cure8, my name is Eric Schlissel, and welcome to the podcast. Andrew, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and about the organization and its goals?
Andrew – Sure. So MoCannTrade was organized in early 2018, really to be the representative voice of the industry. And in Missouri, we actually kind of saw that there was the potential for an industry. There were multiple ballot initiatives in 2018 and legalization looked like it was on the horizon and so a variety of folks basically said, if we’re going to have an industry, we need to have an industry voice and something that works as a representative counterbalance to, you know, regulators and policymakers.
And so we did that and we were fortunate to shoot, organize early, and get a group of professionals that really understood the business landscape and the cannabis legalization landscape and the cannabis operations and be able to represent the industry with a very professional sort of business forward approach. And once licensure happened in Missouri and some of our board members and obviously many of our members had gained licensure, then we really went as an organization, sort of changed from preparing folks to participate in the industry to more of a protect those industry stakeholders and licensees, knowing that, you know, we are one of the most regulated industries that exist.
How to get a microbusiness license in Missouri?
Eric – Amazing. So how do you see your role now that more licenses are being distributed and you’re opening up for recreational and so on?
Andrew – Well, we actually are kind of borrowing from the same template that we did in the past. So Missouri is part of an expansion through the micro-business opportunity that was part of Amendment Three or what is now Article 14, the law here in Missouri for cannabis legalization and the micro-business opportunity involves the creation and issuance of 144 new micro-business licenses.
Those are basically divided up into three tranches. They’ll issue them over the course of about three years in three separate tranches. Each tranche is 48 licenses, 32 micro-business. They call them wholesale licenses. I would call them to grow process licenses. You have the choice to either or. You can grow and process, or either of those things would be the applicant’s choice.
And then 16 of those are dispensaries. And so we really approached it in the same way where we wanted to make sure that anyone who was interested in participating in the cannabis industry here in Missouri as a micro-business applicant, an operator, that they would have, you know, the same ability to have us and others help them prepare to participate.
Sharing of information. We obviously have a large member base that has been successfully operating and working within Missouri Cannabis for a few years now. And I think, you know, with the adult use passage and the expansion of the industry, Missouri has really done a wonderful job. And this is everyone. This is, you know, the operators, the regulators, the advocates.
We’ve all worked really hard to try and create the best program in the country. And we want to impart that same information and education and knowledge share to those micro-business applicants and potential operators here, here shortly. So we really use the same approach. It’s give everybody the knowledge and then it’s up to them to sort of continue their adventure in the industry should they get licenses.
Eric – Amazing. Do you find that your existing member base, those that have licenses that are operating, are enthusiastic about micro licensing?
Andrew – Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, we’ve all sort of put our arms around this new aspect of our industry and said, you know, these are folks that will be licensed as operators. They will be contributing to the cannabis landscape here in Missouri. And they are every part of the industry as the commercials are, and frankly, as the industry grows and potentially expands, micro licensees have an opportunity to convert to a commercialized is down the road.
So as the state evaluates the market and all the licenses that have been issued or stood up, then they can go back and basically analyze the marketplace and say, well, there’s, you know, there’s more supply than demand or there’s more demand than supply. And they can basically determine should additional commercial licenses be granted. And then I think half of those go to a new applicant pool for commercial licenses and half of them would go to existing micro-business licenses.
And so, you know, I think the whole industry is excited about what this means and that, you know, much like the commercial licenses, it’s just another aspect or facet of our industry here in Missouri.
Eric – That’s wonderful. Are you seeing out-of-state folks coming in and trying to subvert the rules?
Andrew – So the Department of Health and Senior Services, which is the Division of Cannabis Regulation, they’re the governing body here in Missouri, and they’ve been pretty frank. And they’ve, I think, tried to spot some of the groups that may try to overcome the way the rules have been written or the way the law represents how people can participate.
The spirit of Article 14 was to give interested micro-business. First, if you meet the micro-business application requirements, those folks, the idea is they would be able to own one license. So there isn’t really an opportunity to stack licenses and the state sort of sees it as you really shouldn’t be able to apply, you know, in order to game the system through myriad applications to try and win that license.
Because the way micro licenses in Missouri or micro-business licenses in Missouri will be issued is through a lottery. So, you know, I think the first thought for folks, whether they’re in-state or out-of-state, is like, how can I ensure that I am on the better end of that lottery outcome? So the state’s been pretty forward in saying in the applications, if we see folks that are, you know, showing up that micro-business representative that has to meet those requirements if they start showing up in other groups, documentation or applications, as my understanding is they’re going to pull them out and not allow them to apply.
So they’re definitely aware of it and they’re definitely looking for it.
Dealing with the Lawsuits
Eric – Understood. And we have seen in Alabama that there are lawsuits. We’ve seen in every market actually now that I think about Florida and so on, as soon as licenses are issued, their lawsuits about the process, their lawsuits about fairness, and so on and so forth, we’ve envisioned a lot of legal entanglement before the market can actually be realized.
Andrew – So we’ve seen that on the commercial side. And as I understood it very early on, pre-licensure, the pre-industry, I mean, we knew that in states that issue licenses to the point you just made, there is sort of a litigation factor that is contemplated in every state that issues licenses regardless of how they do it. There’s always going to be someone that has an issue with the process or the fairness, the equity, whatever it is.
So in Missouri, prior to licensure, the state had already known that there’s usually a roughly 30% appeal rate. So if you have, you know, 100 licenses, 30 of those applicants may decide to appeal the outcome of that. And Missouri had happened to be that we had nearly 2300 applicants and we saw 855 appeals filed for all those licenses that were not successful.
On the micro-business side, I would imagine they’ll be, you know, a similar approach. I think it might be a little harder to have an effective litigation approach against this process, mostly because it’s you have minimum requirements. And as long as you meet those minimum requirements, which are pretty clearly outlined in the process, then it’s just a lottery.
And I mean, how do you litigate against chance? You know, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the framers chose that approach, they wanted it to be fair and not have a committee deciding or some blind score process or whatever where somebody could always find fault in it. This is basically just, you know, a fair chance for everybody that applies.
How Missouri has a very well-run program.
Eric – It’s really smart. I really appreciate the way that the framing has been done. It seems like it’s a very well-run program with very clear marching orders for those who want to participate. We don’t see that all the time. We see a lot of chaos.
Andrew – Yeah, I think there are probably two main reasons for that. One, I think the amendment was very thoughtfully crafted when Missouri you know, if you look at on the medical side, I think we were 33rd to stand up a program medically, and on the adult use side, I believe we were 21st. And so that gave the framers and the folks behind the ballot initiatives a lot of learning opportunity to see what other states, you know, where they had succeeded and where they had failed.
And and I think they really thoughtfully considered all of those various factors in crafting Article 14 here in Missouri. So I think that’s one main reason that they had a really well, well articulated, well-drafted law. And then, you know, our regulators have really tried to do a good job. I mean, they’ve been put on pretty tight timelines.
And so a lot of the things that you see other states having to contemplate or negotiate have really been spelled out already in the law. And that leaves a lot less room for sort of noodling and, you know, backtracking or trying to change the spirit or nature of the law. And so and also, you know, I think the job that was in front of our regulators was pretty clear.
And I think they’ve done a good job of executing it. For the most part, they’ve been on some pretty tight timelines. And we’ve also seen, you know, our program in the state expand, you know, if not triple or quadruple all, you know, as soon as adult use went online. And that also saw that the governing body or the department expanding to meet that need.
And they’re still going through that process having to grow the team and make sure that they have the appropriate amount of compliance officers and licensing specialists and resources to manage a program of this magnitude. Now, I think, you know, in very short order, Missouri has become, you know, a top ten cannabis market in the United States. And so obviously it takes a lot of resources and bandwidth to handle that from a regulatory perspective.
Eric – Of course, it does. And it seems like the tax revenue is supporting that level of growth. So it’s really nice to see. Sorry, go ahead.
Andrew – Oh, I was just going to say that one of the biggest pride points in my mind about the program is, there is nothing that comes from general revenue to fund or operate this program. It’s 100% funded by the fees and taxes collected from the program. Whether it’s the licensing fee or the excise tax. And we really like that.
We are able to say that to Missourians. So, you know, if you like cannabis, great, and you have access to a really wonderful program. If you don’t like cannabis, great. This has nothing to do with you and none of your tax dollars are being used to fund it.
Why operators don’t have to worry too much about the legacy market?
Eric – It’s amazing. Are you seeing the legacy market still active? Is the legal market really overshadowing that now?
Andrew – You know, it’s kind of an ebb and flow. I would say towards the end of the medical program or medical-only program, what we saw was based on the demand, we started to see a higher supply availability, and that drove prices down pretty considerably to the point where you were seeing needle tested safe, you know, great eights for 20 and $25.
And that’s difficult for the illicit market to compete with, especially and really, you know at the normalization of the industry and people seeing cannabis available in their communities and starting to understand and know the difference between, you know if you’re buying a bag from Larry at the gas station, poor Larry, you know, what does that look like versus I can go and have a very sophisticated educational conversation with a wellness specialist that can explain to me the difference between this, that and the other.
And I know that it’s tested. It’s been tested, say, for consumption. And it’s you know, it’s grown in a quality commercial environment with adult use because the expansion has been so rapid and so quick. You know, our production capacity, Kitty, has really been challenged. And COVID still challenges the industry here where even if folks drop genetics at the beginning of the year, knowing that this expansion was coming, you know, there’s obviously a production lag with cannabis and we’re still not caught up yet.
And I think what that’s done as we’ve seen some, you know, some pricing adjustments at retail and on the wholesale side, and we’re still kind of working through that ebb and flow. But I think as the year goes on, we pretty much know, you know, Missouri sales are fairly stable now. We’re basically averaging 118 million a month.
And it’s been pretty since the adult use launch. It’s been pretty consistent. So I think we as an industry now know what the demand looks like. So now it’s just a matter of getting supply caught up and I think that will have the desired effect once again on the illicit market to ensure that you know that the legal market can thrive and that the, you know, the bad actors and the bad things can be tamped down as much as possible.
Eric – Yeah. For the illicit market, there’s you know, the benefit for folks buying is accessibility and often price and price compression. On the other hand, the legal market really does challenge a lot of business models. And are you seeing a lot of folks in the existing legal market having to rethink their business plans and rethink their pricing strategies and rethink how they’re monetizing theirs?
Andrew – GROSS You know, I don’t think a lot of folks I think they were most challenged during the medical market just because, you know, there are a lot of their fixed cost were pretty much the same. And if you’re only selling so much, whether it’s wholesaler, retail, I think they accounted for a lot of that. And, you know, obviously, the biggest burden on anybody operating the cannabis industry is tax you know with to 80 and everything.
And I think there were many groups that accounted for that. And even with the expansion of adult use, I think that’s giving them a greater opportunity. I would say it’s been more helpful than it’s been a detriment, but it still remains a huge burden and factor for everybody. It doesn’t Missouri and otherwise, it’s just a challenge for all of us when you have effective tax rates between 60 and 85%.
Eric – Understood. Some states, I believe New Jersey, for instance, are looking at having tax incentives to offset that. Is that on Missouri’s horizon?
Andrew – So I don’t know about incentives. What did happen here is we were able to account for the decoupling of the state level to the ATC code from the federal tax code. So at the very least, state operators are now able to avoid the tax burden at the state level or any other state taxes. But as far as an incentive program, I’m not aware or I’ve seen really anything like that organizing, frankly.
You know, our goal at this point as an organization and really as a state is to start to have a little more input and impact at the federal level on issues like safe banking into ADT. I was just on the Hill two or three weeks ago meeting with our Missouri delegation, and this is I think it’s the second time we’ve been up there as an association.
And really it’s an education effort. So they know that, you know, there is this significant, sophisticated industry that’s now operating and their districts in their home state. And that industry has needs and concerns, and we want that industry to continue to thrive. We’re one of the biggest job creators in the state right now, and we are the most regulated, but also one of the industries that’s really poised for growth.
And not many other industries can say the same. So we want our federal delegation to know that the Missouri and Missouri business operators have needs and concerns and that they can actually potentially move the needle on issues like to 80 and normalize banking services, access, and those types of things. And to me, that would be a much bigger win for Missouri operators as well as anybody operating in cannabis.
If we can get one of those two things done.
Eric – Absolutely. You know, we don’t see the birth of an industry very often. You know, in general, it’s really remarkable to be right in the mix right now. And part of the I guess, trade associations both have a state mandate in terms of lobbying and getting things done. But the federal participation is actually quite interesting because a lot of industry trade associations that go to the Hill, but they don’t really have staying power and they can’t afford a lobbyist to be there all the time supporting their needs.
And then we look at the national associations and frankly, I don’t know how effective we’ve been at lobbying on a federal level.
Andrew – And so as a new industry or a newer industry, and you make an excellent point, you know, there are organizations, there are national organizations. We’re members of multiple. So we are an affiliate member of Attach, American Trade Association, Cannabis, and Hemp. We’re an affiliate member of the NCAA. They both have lobbying resources and lobby on their respective member’s behalf.
Also, we interact and collaborate at times with National Cannabis Roundtable. It’s difficult because what the feedback that we hear when we speak with members of Congress is that, you know, one organization, they might want this version of this policy thing and another organization might be representing that. And it’s not always aligned and it’s not always a unified voice or unified ask.
And that creates challenges for everyone. We really just we’re not trying to as a as state-based trade association, we are not trying to lobby federally. We will work all of those efforts through our national partners. What we really wanted to do is just show up and introduce, inform, and educate, because we knew that our members, our congressional members just weren’t on their radar.
They didn’t know anything about us as an industry. Our needs and concerns were still fairly new. We did go up before the vote and wanted to introduce ourselves, and we saw this as an opportunity just to further that education and further normalize this new but very robust industry with our Missouri delegation.
Eric – Understood. And that creates something of a groundswell. If every state organization of your stature is doing that, then all of a sudden that national conversation will evolve and change accordingly. We’ve seen, you know, as an organization, we’re members of, you know, half a dozen or even more trade associations at the state and national level. And sometimes we have trouble.
We look at what they’re doing and we just don’t see it as being effective. But we also have to take a long-term approach here. We have to look at it from the long view and think, okay, you know what? That one side conversation that you had in the hallway with your trade representative might turn into something bigger.
It’s tough. You know, when you’re in the weeds and you’re dealing with the day-to-day to see that. But if we look at that, we do see this conversation evolving in the Overton Window is actually shifting fairly rapidly.
Andrew – Yeah, I always refer to normalization and then it can take so many different forms. You know, we all as a national industry, we’re all challenged because, you know, we have these state environments in every state. You know, some don’t have legalization whatsoever. Some have, you know, for medical and adult use. And they, you know, the regulatory frameworks and the way each state works are all different.
And it’s very disparate. So it’s hard to unify that 2 to 1 answer, one needs on the Hill. And everybody approaches it a little differently. But I agree with you, the more conversations we can have and you just said something I thought I hadn’t even thought of it that way. But if everybody that is essentially a MoCannTrade type group in their respective state, we’re interacting with directly, just as a business constituent, not as a lobbyist, but we’re interacting with their congressional members that could have a huge impact if they had the ability to do that.
Is the Missouri Cannabis market in good shape?
Eric – Yeah. When you look at the tax revenue generated and you take away the regulations, right, and you look at it from a clear business perspective, why shouldn’t we have a larger voice in the conversation? It makes logical sense. But then there’s all the stigma attached to it, and then there’s a legacy that’s attached to it. And it’s complicated, but if we look at it from a level playing field, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be heard more.
I want to take the conversation back local because you’ve seen the growth of the industry in your state turned into a $1,000,000,000 industry, right? With purpose and with very clear winners and losers, obviously. But at the end of the day, it does seem like most people that are licensed are doing okay. It seems like the overall business environment is one of success.
Firstly, would you agree that the industry as a whole in Missouri is in good shape?
Andrew – Yeah, I think success is obviously a broad term. I think it’s very successful here in Missouri. I would temper that a little bit. If you start talking about profitability, there are still challenges there. Like we just talked about. But I think on the whole, Missouri has been very successful. And I like to think, you know, we’re pretty intimate state when I talk to other folks in other states and they contrast Missouri to sort of what’s happening.
And, you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s Illinois or Florida or Oklahoma or wherever. You know, Missouri has a pretty large amount of license groups and operators. We have over 400 licenses that are held by roughly 105 operating groups. So that’s a pretty big industry when you know, you look at Illinois, currently, Illinois has less groups total licensed.
And until all the social equity and the other licenses are fully issued and operating, I think at last blush, Illinois is basically owned and operated by roughly 15 groups. And so that’s a whole different landscape. And we’re very fortunate that all like MoCannTrade and the energy that we tried to organize all happened pre industry. So basically Missourians, no one had any equity in the industry.
Everybody was on an even footing and everybody had the same desires. They wanted to both participate in the industry, but they wanted to see the industry be successful. So it’s that whole like, you know, rising tide lifts all boats approach and we really push that. So, anybody who wanted to or ended up participate in the industry had a voice and had appropriate equity and could be represented.
Whether you are a mom-and-pop that won one or two dispensaries or you are a larger group that was operating as a vertical and we’ve continued to try and bring the industry together so that everybody can share knowledge, share information, work together, whether it’s policy concerns, regulatory concerns, whatever it is. We’ve tried to be that organizing energy.
So when there are needs and concerns, everybody feels like, okay, I’ve got a voice, I’ve got a seat at the table and we’re going to get this done on behalf of everyone and everyone’s success. It’s not one in a particular group that is rising above others and and benefiting more than anyone else. It’s about industry success.
And frankly, a lot of the folks that own here in Missouri are proud Missourians and they want to see it succeed just for that fact in and of itself.
Educating and supporting folks getting licensed
Eric – Yeah, completely understood. With that, how are you helping educate folks that are just getting licensed to be successful? So operationally, you know, when we look at the lifecycle of a new business. Right. We talk about, you know, the application, then we get into, okay, well, how do I build this thing? Right? And that’s typically what people focus on.
They kind of forget about the operational aspects of it and all of the different boxes that need to be checked in order to have a successful business. They tend to look at, okay, I’m going to open and I’m going to make $1,000,000,000. And they kind of forget that business fundamentals apply. But also they’re a little skewed because of cannabis.
So how is your organization looking at the ongoing education and the support of folks that are just getting licensed and off the ground?
Andrew – Well, I would say, you know, we’re about three and a half years into an operating industry. And our goal all along has been to try and bring folks together. You know, again, we weren’t the first to do this. So there are a lot of organizations, there are a lot of individuals that we and the industry here have relied on to bring their knowledge and expertise there, the successes that they’ve had in other places.
I mean, MoCannTrade is proud to say, I think we have, I don’t know, like 150 or 200 service provider members. So these are non licensees, organizations like Great and others that are here to support and elevate these operators when they’re operating their businesses, helping them with, you know, business decisions and the needs of their organizations.
And we’ve tried again be that sort of organizing energy that everybody has a place here. But when people have needs, there are folks that they can rely on to help them get the information they need to be successful. We would rather be in that position than be, you know, directly responsible for someone’s, you know, business adventure by any means.
It’s more so creating the forum, creating the venue and the opportunity. So when we bring people together or when they can get connected with each other, that information can be shared and people can help each other succeed based on all their knowledge and expertise that they already have. Have accomplished in other places.
Eric – I appreciate that. And we’ve found and we appreciate, you know, how you’ve helped us understand the market when going into a new market as a national organization. We want to be very sensitive. We want to make sure that we understand the market, we understand the needs, and we understand the challenges that people are facing in that specific market.
Sure, 80% of what we do translates. It really does. When we go from one market to another, there’s change. But at a fundamental level, we’re still running the same type of business. But the nuance, that’s the hard part. And so we really appreciate MoCannTrade helping us understand how to address the market, where it is, and help elevate it.
That being said, there’s always a gap, right? Regardless of how active any of us are in the day-to-day business, there’s always a gap between the folks that are just getting into it from not being in the cannabis industry to being an operator. That’s both successful and profitable. And so what do you see that trips up folks that are just getting started with their license and trying to launch?
Do you have any advice for people that just got their license?
Andrew – Well, you know, it’s really challenging in this industry because, you know, people talk about the green rush and, you know, all these things when each state-based industry is stood up, there’s kind of a a rush to get in there. And, you know, whether you’re the pick and ax provider or you’re the actual mine, or whatever, there’s a rush to do that.
I think folks have to be mindful that not everybody has the same intentions that maybe we or others do to see them successful. They might just be opportunistic, you know, grifters or whatever. But I think that we as an organization have helped ensure that when we’re all working together and we’re all talking to each other.
I think the other thing that may get in the way part of it is what we’ve seen is, you know, everybody that operates in this industry probably had a business they were either part of or owned a business that was successful in some other industry or place. And they’re trying to come in and transpose some of their knowledge and abilities here.
But I think sometimes a little bit of ego gets in the way because, you know, they don’t know what they don’t know, but they aren’t necessarily completely open to listening to others. They want to sort of figure it out on their own and maybe fail on their own at times to their detriment. But at other times, you know that you can have a few failures here and there before maybe you’ll learn a different way to approach it.
But again, what we’ve tried to do is just give everybody access and opportunity through the conduit of the trade association. So if they start to trip up, they have either an operator peer that they can ask questions, they have access and they’re connected to through the trade association or a service provider partner that they can say, you know, I thought I’d be able to do the function internally that has totally crapped out on us.
So we really need an expert who understands this space and, in the onboarding, the hiring, and the benefit and insurance needs of this space because it is pretty distinct. And so that’s as long as folks can sort of get past the I don’t know everything and I don’t have all the answers and I’m willing to reach out and ask for a hand.
You know, we’d like to think we’ve got a really great foundation and bench of experts and service provider helpers that can ensure that folks if they need help, they can get help.
Eric – Understood. We don’t see, we hope we don’t see a lot of Larry from the gas station getting a license.
Andrew – Well, you know especially with the micro-business opportunity in Missouri, I mean, again, you meet the requirements and realize a lot of the folks, it was intention that folks that were coming from the other side of market now or were previously criminalized for, you know, doing something in cannabis would have the opportunity to participate in this new aspect of the Missouri industry.
I think that’s a good thing. I just hope that they can, as they’re going through this process and if they become a licensee, understand that this is a highly regulated industry and it’s going to act a lot differently than the environment they worked in previously, where they didn’t have regulatory obligations, They didn’t have limitations to what they could or couldn’t do.
They didn’t have sort of this whole industry looking at them, making sure that they’re doing the right things, because we, you know, again, rising tide, we want to make sure this is a safe, successful industry for all of us because we all appreciate the opportunity to bring the power of the plant to the people here in Missouri.
And, you know, we don’t want to lose that ability that the voters of Missouri have entrusted, you know, this industry to do right by them and ensure safe access to cannabis. And so, you know, for the folks that are coming from the shadows looking to operate here, we just we’re excited to embrace them.
But we also hope that they recognize that it’s not a right, it’s a privilege. And that they do, you know, do right by that opportunity.
Eric – Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I think the power of the plant to the people is a great place to put a thumbtack in this and continue the conversation another time. Andrew, anything else you want to get across about MoCannTrade that we haven’t covered or the state of the industry, Anything else?
Andrew – No, not really. I think, you know, we’re just very fortunate that we have such a sophisticated group of business professionals. We are a business-forward organization. And I think that’s been a big part of our success, you know, whether we’re walking into a room to talk to a regulator or a congressional member or even just one of our industry peers, you know, we’ve taken, you know, what was previously known as something that was illicit and, you know, very different conversations almost, you know, people made fun of cannabis advocates and all of that.
And we’ve tried to really put a professional polish on what we’re doing here in Missouri. And I think the entire organization, our leadership and all that, you know, we just, we’re very appreciative of everyone coming together in a very credible, professional way to bring this whole industry to life here in Missouri.
Eric – Really appreciate that. I appreciate your time and I appreciate what you guys are doing. This is really fun, Really fun, but also a really unique opportunity that we all have right in front of us. And it’s great to have great partners alongside us as we’re going through this machine. Thanks again, Andrew.
Andrew – Thank you.
Eric – All right. Take care.