Richard Gunnels used to be skeptical of marijuana and he didn’t think it should be legalized for medical purposes.
Gunnels is a farmer in a small town in Missouri, and some of the land he grows on today has been farmed by his family for more than 120 years in Macon County. He grew up on that farm, which his family has farmed for generations.
It was an uncle in Florida who changed his mind about medical cannabis. The uncle suffers from tremors and he told the Gunnels how medical marijuana helped his condition. Now, the Missouri farmer oversees a medical marijuana operation in Macon’s industrial park.
“I’m always trying to help people and do things for people to make their lives better,” Gunnels said. “And it really fits with the things that I like to do with farming and it really fits with my interests.”
Missouri’s medical marijuana economy surpassed $400 million in sales this July. The total dates back to the state’s first sale in October 2020. The industry has averaged about $30 million each month in sales since November 2021, said Lyndall Fraker, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director of medical marijuana regulation.
One company, Flora Farms, ended up with a cultivation facility in Humansville because of that rule, said Mark Hendren, president of Flora Farms. The group’s facility in the city of 907 employs approximately 150 full-time workers.
“The impact on that community is dramatic,” Hendren said.
All of a sudden, Berry had three or four potential companies looking for locations in Vandalia. One of the companies was 1913 Holdings, which eventually leased a vacant 35,000-square-foot building in the city. The company recently purchased the space, and also has cultivation facilities in Carrollton and Waynesville.
The Vandalia facility employs 45 full-time workers. Berry has observed those workers frequenting local lunch restaurants and convenience stores when passing through town. The city is also getting a boost from utility usage from the facility.
Cultivation takes place indoors because it yields more crops each year. The facility pays Vandalia about $45,000 each month in utility bills, and the location is not yet operating at capacity, Berry said. For water alone, the use is about 10,000 gallons each day.
“That’s additional revenue for the city that wasn’t there,” Berry said.
When 1913 was looking to get space in the Vandalia building, medical marijuana was new and taboo for the small town with an aging population, Berry said. Some residents may have had misconceptions about what a cultivation site means in the city, and the city held several public meetings for the companies to introduce themselves.
Companies showcased their business and benefits to the community, and public officials heard feedback from residents. Although public comments indicate that some residents were skeptical of the incoming industry, 1913 received numerous letters of support from local businesses and organizations.
“The perception of marijuana changed,” Berry said. “I think it created a lot of excitement, the field of medical marijuana did.”
The state’s licensed cultivation facilities have the capacity to grow enough medical marijuana for at least 300,000 patients, based on the square footage of all facilities, Fraker said. The state has about 188,000 registered patients.
Flora Farms has the capacity to grow over 2,000 pounds of marijuana each month. However, there is not enough demand for that level of production, Hendren said. In Macon, Agri-Genesis is in the early stages of expansion, said Sean Carriger, the company’s president.
Many in the medical cannabis industry hope Missouri voters will pass the recreational marijuana ballot measure in November. If that happens, they predict rapid growth for Missouri’s marijuana industry.
“I can’t overstate the impact it would have, both on our company and the industry,” Carriger said.