Former Ozark Countian leads family effort to build medical marijuana businesses
Three years ago, after several family members were diagnosed with cancer, former Ozark County resident VaNessa Loftis started researching medical marijuana. She shared the information she found with her family, and they became advocates of Missouri’s Amendment II, which proposed legalizing marijuana, also known as cannabis, for medical use.
“We knew, even before the elections, that if it passed, we wanted to be part of it because of the positive impact it can have on the health and disease processes of patients,” said Loftis. After voters passed the amendment in November 2018, the family set their sights on becoming, in the words of their vision statement, “the premier provider of high-quality cannabis in Southern Missouri.”
Voters passed the amendment, which means medical cannabis will be available for purchase “sometime after January 2020,” according to a Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services news release.
Loftis’ family hopes to become licensed to grow, process and sell medical cannabis as Show-Me Natural Gardens, Show-Me Manufacturing and The Health Hub dispensary. According to its mission statement, the family-run business aims to “improve the lives of Missouri medical patients though our natural products, provide alternative solutions to serious health concerns, educate patients about the benefits of medical cannabis, and strengthen and improve our communities though an unparalleled revenue source.”
The family plans to locate the facilities in Ava.
Hoping to overcome the stigma
VaNessa’s mother, Katrina Overcast, will act as chief executive officer and president, and her brother, Matthew Overcast, will serve as chief operating officer of the cultivation, manufacturing and dispensary operations. VaNessa, who was named vice president, said, “It’s really our whole family, including my other brother, my father, my husband. Everyone has worked hard and assisted in the planning and development of this project, and we have a team built now with several business owners in the community that are all collaborating with us to help bring this to Ava.”
If the business receives its licenses, Loftis estimates that they will be able to provide 60 to 100 jobs. In addition to growing cannabis for sale to qualifying patients, Show-Me Manufacturing plans to manufacture a wide range of products such as tincture oils, edible consumables and lotions for those who prefer not to consume the marijuana by smoking it.
The family is working hard on their facility application, which requires information on everything from personal background of the principal officers and amount of liquid capital available to plans for addressing odor and security concerns. The Missouri DHSS press release says, “The top-scoring 60 cultivation facilities, 192 dispensary facilities and 86 medical marijuana-infused manufacturing facilities will be initially licensed for business in Missouri.”
Though the application acceptance period doesn’t officially open until Aug. 3, a total of 543 facility applications have already been pre-filed, including some from Douglas, Howell and Taney counties, but, at press time Tuesday, none from Ozark County. The application also asks about the potential medical marijuana facilities’ impact on the community. Show-Me Natural Gardens has held a series of public meetings to inform local residents about their plans and to answer questions about medical cannabis.
The family is also circulating a petition of support for their proposed business, and so far they have gathered over 350 signatures. According to Loftis, public feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. One signer of the online petition commented, “I believe it would help the economy for our little town, plus help the opioid drug problem in our community.” Another signer said, “I support this 100%. I have chronic pain and mobility issues and can’t get much help from doctors. I would love the chance to find something that would help my pain level before I’m unable to care for myself.”
Loftis described herself as “a nurse and a skeptic” but added, “the research shows clinical significance in the reduction of opioids, the reduction of seizure activity, the reduction of chronic and debilitating pain and numerous other health conditions. This amendment was passed by Missouri voters because patients need more options than addictive and ineffective pharmaceuticals that are available to them now.
“We need to start getting educated and working to overcome the social stigma of medical cannabis use and realize the positive impact it will have on many patients lives,” Loftis said. “My good friend died of a horrible seizure in February. She was one of our biggest supporters, and it breaks my heart that she didn’t get the medicine she needed in time.”
While many local residents have shown support for medical marijuana, Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said he’s not sold on the idea.
“I think it’s going to make the [crime] situation worse,” Reed recently told the Times. “I don’t think it’s going to be good for the area at all.”
Reed said that while he does see the benefit of medical marijuana for patients with cancer or other terminally ill diseases, he said the law enforcement side of things is not clearly defined yet.
“At our Missouri Sheriffs Association meeting in March, the speaker was the health director overseeing this whole thing,” he said. “He couldn’t answer three-quarters of our questions because he said they just didn’t know yet. We’re all still just in the dark about how this thing is going to unfold for law enforcement.”
Reed is also concerned that crime rates will increase in the area as a result of the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. His skepticism grew out of discussions with Pueblo County (Colorado) Sheriff Kirk Taylor about how the legalization of recreational marijuana has affected his county. Taylor spoke at the Missouri Sheriffs Association meeting a few years ago, discussing the effects he has seen firsthand on his community, Reed said.
Acknowledging that Missouri hasn’t legalized recreational use of marijuana as Colorado has, Reed is still concerned. “The way he talked, they’ve had a lot of problems with crime rising after marijuana was legalized,” Reed said. “He said it’s really been a bad deal.”
Some of Taylor’s comments are outlined in a report by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice of Research and Statistics, released in October 2018. The report found that while possession arrests and traffic deaths directly attributable to marijuana were down, use among young people remained the same, and marijuana revenues had quadrupled since 2014. Meanwhile, organized crime has increased in the area since 2008. Also, probationers age 18 to 25 who tested positive for THC increased from 32 percent in 2012 to 41 percent in 2017, according to the report. Also, seizure of marijuana plants in illegal operations skyrocketed from 46,662 in 2012 to 80,926 in 2017, according to a news story in the Pueblo Chieftain that detailed the results of the study.
Using medical marijuana
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has opened applications for patients interested in using medical marijuana. To obtain an identification card, patients must submit an online application and a Physician Certification Form signed by a qualified doctor.
The Physician Certification Form lists qualifying medical conditions as cancer; epilepsy; glaucoma; intractable migraines unresponsive to other treatment; chronic medical conditions that cause severe, persistent pain or persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to multiple sclerosis, seizures, Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome; debilitating psychiatric disorders, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder; HIV or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; chronic medical conditions normally treated with a prescription medication that could lead to dependence; a terminal illness; or any other chronic, debilitating or other medical condition based on the professional judgement of a physician.
The patient fee for a medical marijuana identification card is $25, with an annual renewal fee of $25. Qualifying medical marijuana patients may pay an additional $100 cultivation fee to grow up to six plants. Dispensaries will be required to collect a 4 percent tax for the Missouri Veterans’ Health Care Fund in addition to regular state and local taxes.
According to a June 27 report by KY3 news in Springfield, both the CoxHealth and Mercy systems have announced that they will not prescribe medical marijuana. At press time, Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains had not yet finalized its policy on whether its doctors would sign Patient Certification Forms.
“Because of the reluctance of local providers to certify their qualifying patients, we have been assisting patients with finding providers,” Loftis told the Times, adding that telemedicine as one option for rural patients who don’t have access to a local doctor willing to certify patients.
Legal access to cannabis for medicinal use brings the hope of relief to some and the fear of increased crime to others. Whether the overall impact is positive or negative remains to be seen, but it’s almost sure to make a difference in Ozark County.
For more information about Show-Me Natural Gardens, find them on Facebook. For more information about medical marijuana in Missouri, visit https://health.mo.gov/safety/medical-marijuana and select from the drop-down menus on the right side of the screen.