Karin Spinks Chester Credit: Submitted

Karin Spinks Chester’s May 26-27 Midwest Canna Expo may be just the antidote for Missouri’s medical marijuana entrepreneurs looking to reconvene after Covid both virtually and, hopefully, in person.

“I’m excited about the possibility that my two expos can serve as bookends of the plague,” she said, noting that one year ago this week she wrapped up her first state-wide event and was looking forward to a full calendar of in-person programs. 

We all know what happened next. 

Despite the jolts and disruptions of the last year, however, Missouri did officially go legal for medical marijuana. Yet as Spinks’ chosen industry boomed, her in-person events were placed on indefinite hiatus. 

Enter plan Z. 

“We started playing around with Zoom last year to see what a virtual event would look like,” she said, adding that the 2021 program will be either virtual only or a hybrid affair with in-person sessions and networking at the St. Louis Union Station.

“We expect with the proper protocols a smaller than normal crowd and a larger than normal crowd virtually,” she said. 

The high tolerance for ambiguity Spinks brings to event planning was cultivated while working as a patient advocate who collaborated with the state’s industry stakeholders to successfully legalize the plant via ballot referendum in 2018. 

On the one hand, Spinks is partnered with and a former employee of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Industry Association (MoCannTrade). On the other hand she is a longtime medical user who began treating chronic and debilitating arthritis as well as side effects of low dose chemotherapy nearly a decade ago by smoking grass. Now that medical cannabis is legal and commercially expanding in the state, Spinks and those she advocates for as executive director of Greater St. Louis NORML have more consumption options in terms of edibles, tinctures and other products developed specifically for illnesses and pain relief. 

Amidst the myriad of challenges impacting Missouri’s medical marijuana program, Spinks sees a need for greater communication between existing cannabis businesses and the state’s more than 100,000 medical card holders.

“There is a huge polarization between the industry and the community,” said Spinks, who is also a cannabis educator at Saint Louis University. “The community needs to understand that these businesses are still considered outlaws by the federal government and are paying an effective 70 percent tax rate. But the industry needs to know that people’s lives depend on their product.”

Despite the significant customer base, January 2021 cannabis sales in Missouri were only $4.5 million. As is more the norm rather than exception in new markets, product is scarce. To date, one-quarter of the state’s 60 cultivators are operational largely due to funding constraints. Until there is reliable supply, many licensed dispensary owners delay opening day. In the meantime, illicit and interstate options exist for card holders who rely on the plant for health and wellness. 

Prior to her work in advocacy and education, Spinks considered using her 20 acres of Missouri land and experience with greenhouse vegetation to start her own cannabis cultivator. 

“I read at the time that opportunities for women in cannabis were better than other industries”, she said, adding that this is no longer the case. 

“As people succeed in the cannabis industry they can pay it forward. Business is not always kind. But I feel the cannabis industry can be.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.