Jefferson County’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened a year ago, and since then several other locations have opened, and access to various forms of cannabis and methods to purchase the products have grown, too.
A bill legalizing medical marijuana passed in Missouri in late 2018, and the county’s first dispensary, BKind Dispensary, opened March 10, 2021, in Imperial.
After that came N’Bliss with locations in Festus and House Springs; Star Buds in Festus; and North Medical Group with locations in Hillsboro and Pevely.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has approved 186 dispensaries, 64 manufacturing facilities and 46 cultivators to operate in the state, and Jefferson County has six of the dispensaries and one manufacturer.
“Nearly every facility who was part of the initial round of licensing is now up and running and providing beneficial products and service to the patients of Missouri,” said Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation for DHSS.
As of March 4, there were 6,139 active medical marijuana patients in Jefferson County and 171,144 patients in the state, according to the DHSS website.
The state reported in February that medical marijuana sales have totaled $251.7 million since October 2020, when sales began.
“Product availability and selection has increased tremendously in the last year,” said Joseph Barczewski, who, along with Tony Gianino, owns BKind in Imperial, plus another location in south St. Louis County. They also are owners of seven Gianino Family Restaurants.
“When we first opened (BKind), we had two variations of raw (marijuana) flower, no vape cartridges, no concentrates and a handful of selections on the edible side,” Barczewski said. “Two months in, you started seeing more cultivators offering their flower and more people having product ready.”
Those who operate dispensaries in Jefferson County said each one provides a unique way for patients to shop for products, but all of them have the same goal – helping patients live a healthy life.
“Our focus will always be wellness,” said Adam Mire, general manager of the N’Bliss House Springs location. “It is the way people should look at it. We are talking about something that will be a help to a healthy lifestyle.”
Barczewski said it’s important for his BKind dispensaries to offer a variety of products from licensed manufacturers and cultivators.
“I think it is extremely important for us to have the selection that we have,” he said. “I want to carry as many products as possible and not be 100 percent loyal to any specific vendor. I want the variety to be there for patients.”
Barczewski said his staff members know the importance of providing patients with information about how to obtain a medical marijuana card and about what products work best for their condition.
However, all the dispensary operators stressed that staff members are not medical doctors and are not providing medical advice.
“This is a journey that a patient has to go down on their own,” Barczewski said. “We suggest keeping notes and finding what works for you. When patients do find a method that works for them and get the pain relief or anxiety relief, they continue to come back because they have found what they are looking for.”
The BKind Imperial dispensary, 1229 Imperial Main, is celebrating its one-year anniversary by giving out free T-shirts and offering discounts and other promotions.
N’Bliss opened its first county dispensary June 15, 2021, at 2285 Hwy. 67 in Festus, and then its House Springs location, 3 Walters Place, on Sept. 17, 2021.
The company had opened the state’s first dispensaries on Oct. 17. 2020, in Manchester and Ellisville.
Bradford Goette, CEO and managing partner of N’Bliss, said educating patients and potential patients about how to obtain medical marijuana cards and about the company’s products is paramount to helping those they serve.
“I think the biggest challenge for prospective patients is, how do I go about getting a doctor to approve me for a medical marijuana card?” he said. “It’s as easy as coming to one of our N’Bliss locations to get the details or going to our website (nirvana-invest.com) that will provide you with a step-by-step process.”
While employees cannot provide medical advice, the staff continually researches information about cannabis and its medical benefits, Mire said.
He also said websites like leafly.com and weedmaps.com are good resources to learn about the effects of medical marijuana.
“We are trying to bridge the information gap without providing a medical diagnosis and saying here what is going to help you,” Mire said. “All of my people are encouraged to take extra time, when we are not busy, to look things up on cannabis. Being able to convey that to the patients is what will get them the appropriate medication.”
The Star Buds Festus dispensary, 1168 W. Gannon Drive, opened May 10, 2021.
A unique feature at Star Buds, which also has locations in Colorado, Oklahoma, Maryland, Canada and Jamaica, offers patients the chance to inspect and smell the numerous marijuana plants and buy flower from those plants, said Chris Chesley, who owns and operates the location.
“(Patients) are able to look at it, smell it and if there is a particular bud they like, they can point it out and make sure that is the one they want to take home,” Chesley said. “We found it is better for the patients, especially when we get new flowers in. That way you can try a gram of something that may work better or it may not, but you are not spending $60 to try something new. It is more affordable for patients to find what they are looking for.”
Star Buds staff members strive to make patients comfortable, Chesley said.
“There are people who are very familiar with cannabis, and you are just letting them know what products you have. The most important thing the budtender (employee selling products) can do is help someone new understand the benefits and guide them towards something that can help them,” he said.
North Medical Group
The North Medical Group company opened its first county dispensary May 29, 2021, at 1709 Hwy. Z in Pevely and another on June 12, 2021, at 929 Peachtree Plaza Drive in Hillsboro.
Neil Volner, North Medical Group vice president, said one of the company’s main goals is to provide as many ways as possible for patients to access cannabis products.
North Medical Group facilities have a kiosk in their lobbies that allows a patient to place an order to pick up at a lobby window, as well as a drive-thru for patients to pick up an order after it is placed online. The dispensaries also offer delivery.
“The main goal is to provide an excellent experience and as many avenues for access as we can. That is ultimately what our job here is to provide access to medical cannabis,” Volner said.