Taking a closer look at Missouri’s cannabis culture
When I was 19, I was back in Kansas City from KU for winter break. My friends and I decided to meet up at our old high school so that we could all get in one car and smoke weed. In hindsight, what a brilliant idea.
There was no way to know this would go horribly awry. As luck would have it, a Roeland Park police officer was across the street and saw us all get into one car. He pulled us over the second we drove out of the high school parking lot.
Naturally, he made some stuff up about seeing “something” on the seats, which is wild. We hadn’t even have time to load a bowl, but he got us out of the car. I had a pipe and an eighth of weed, so I got arrested. We were on a school campus, which made it a more serious offense, so I had to be escorted to Gardner, KS where I spent the night in county jail.
Fast forward to 2022—I am 30 years old and have a Missouri medical marijuana card. I can legally possess up to a half pound of cannabis.
Medical use of marijuana was legalized in Missouri in 2018 through a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution. Since the government moves at a lightning-fast pace, the first licensed sales began in October of 2020.
Cannabis is in the mainstream now. Seth Rogen sells it. Snoop Dogg is famous for smoking it. Even Jason Kander ate a marijuana gummy recently. That’s huge. Recreational legalization seems like the next logical step, and that could happen soon.
I spoke to three different people in the local medical community and tried to get a feel for how the business has evolved and where they see it going. They’ve also all done amazing work for local charities and fundraisers in their community—those willing to make weed money, that is.
Zach Smith is the director of marketing for Nature Med, a family-owned cannabis operation. They have five locations in Missouri: Gladstone, Kansas City, Independence, St. Louis, and O’Fallon. This means they were awarded five retail licenses as well as one for manufacturing.
Smith also managed the Kansas City location for over a year. “It was all hands on deck. Everyone was working multiple jobs at first,” Smith says.
Smith grew up in Topeka and was always interested in cannabis. He’s excited about their partnership with The Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit organization that works with prisoners incarcerated for marijuana offenses.
Dr. James McEntire is a pediatrician in Grandview, Missouri. He graduated from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and has been a practicing physician for 26 years. He specializes in medical marijuana certification and research for autism spectrum disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, and many other conditions.
He was also a single license award winner and owns his own store in Grandview called ReLeaf. He really is a one man show. His YouTube channel addresses common cannabis-related questions like, “Are vapes good or bad?” and “What to expect when eating edibles.”
“As a physician and owner, I am proud to do everything I can to be certain that patients receive the best medical marijuana experience and a diverse variety of medical marijuana selections at the best price while insuring that quality is the very finest available,” McEntire says while reflecting on his journey. “In retrospect, following our first anniversary, we have created a culture of knowledgeable staff, compliance with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and convenience for patients. I believe in self analysis and grasping each and every opportunity for improvement to allow us to excel far beyond expectation. We have embraced a duty to community and veterans needs.”
Fresh Karma Dispensaries
Jericho Heese is the director of marketing for Fresh Karma Dispensaries, which has locations in Midtown, Parkville, and St. Joseph. Fresh Karma’s Parkville location is just minutes away from Graden Elementary School where he attended as a kid.
Heese went to high school in Kansas and spent time in Los Angeles before living in Denver for several years. At first, he was interested in merging music and cannabis, working with various artists and RAW rolling papers to help create rawlife247.
In 2012 Heese decided he wanted to get out of the music side and just focus solely on cannabis. He worked almost every job possible in the industry. He called the owner of a local dispensary budtender job and claimed he could also create a podcast for the shop. He started the next day.
Within two weeks he was in charge of the retail side of the business and started handling the marketing. When Missouri legalized medical marijuana in 2018 he wanted to get back home to be one of the first people on the ground floor.
Heese was introduced to some local business owners in KC and was able to put together the Fresh Karma team. By January 2020, they received their manufacturing license and three retail licenses. They are still working to acquire their cultivation license which would allow them to create a more”farm to table” experience with their products.
Fresh Karma’a manufacturing facility is run by Alex Paulakovich. “She’s an absolute beast,” says Heese. “She’s been able to help curate some of these brands that we’ve created and work with some of these awesome cultivators to make sure that we have some amazing product to go into the market.”
Heese says 100% of their operators live in Kansas City. “When we started, a majority of ownership had to be Missouri-based, and unfortunately, I think the Supreme Court has ruled recently against that and is allowing MSO’s (multi-state operators) to come in, which makes it a little bit tougher for us,” says Heese. “But I think Kansas City has such a local feel that they’ll support the local guys.”
In terms of the future, Heese is excited. Fresh Karma now has more than 60 employees and big plans for their manufacturing brand, Nuthera Labs. He’s eager to do more events and charity work. The name Fresh Karma even comes from a clothing company he created 10 years ago as a fundraising venture. This reaches a full circle moment for Heese, who believes he is exactly where he’s supposed to be.
You might even call it karma.