by Gregory J. Holman
12 Jan 2021
Legal cannabis is coming to Springfield’s suburbs.
Christian County’s 88,000 residents will see their first medical marijuana dispensary open for business as early as Thursday, one of the business owners told the News-Leader on Monday. The news comes as Missouri expects to have roughly 105 permitted marijuana businesses operating in the near future, up from about 43 currently.
Nixa-based Missouri Joint Ventures doesn’t have an opening date nailed down, but is planning to start with a soft opening rather than a heavily promoted event in order to moderate the flow of patients into their facility. Co-owner Dana Sullinger urged everyone interested in visiting the store, also dubbed “MJV” and “MOJO,” to follow the company on Facebook (search “Missouri Joint Ventures”) for specific updates.
Sullinger said that Wana and Robhots-branded edible gummy candies and pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, all manufactured by Kansas City-based CLOVR, will be the main product offering when the place opens. They are working with another supplier, Flora Farms, to get in line for cannabis flower (smokable marijuana buds) as soon as possible, and Sullinger said they are vetting various CBD manufacturers to choose the safest possible non-THC “cannabidiol” products to offer for sale at a later date. Meanwhile, the shop offers water pipes, bongs, vaporizers and other gear.
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Sullinger and her husband, Mark Sullinger, were recently given “commencement” approval by state medical marijuana authorities, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed on Monday. The process took about three weeks, Sullinger said. She’s also been in touch with local authorities, including Nixa police, describing relations as good.
“I’m used to being regulated — okay, highly regulated — in the field that I’m in,” Sullinger said. “This was an adventure; it was a little more regulated than I anticipated.”
The Sullingers set up shop in a former doctor’s office at 202 West Street, in a part of Nixa adjacent to big residential neighborhoods that are also bustling with commercial activity: The beige brick building is just one block south of Nixa Hardware and a large Central Bank of the Ozarks branch, and it’s book-ended by the stoplights where Highway 13 intersects with Mt. Vernon Street and South Street.
Like the two dispensaries currently operating in Springfield, the Sullingers’ outfit is a small, closely-held operation. Unlike Old Route 66 Wellness and OzaRX Botanicals, Missouri Joint Ventures is owned and operated by two pharmacists who have been licensed in the profession since the early 1980s — “longer than I’d care to talk about,” Dana Sullinger quipped — according to the Missouri Board of Pharmacy.
Sullinger said her experience in the pharmacy field prompted her interest in cannabis as a treatment. Many marijuana entrepreneurs tell some variation of the same story: A family member used medical marijuana to treat a serious illness, leading to their interest in the plant. But for Sullinger — who said she is not herself a cannabis user — it was a matter of worrying about her patients while she was on the job.
She said she spent 19 years employed as a Walmart pharmacist at stores in Ozark and Nixa, and while that was a rewarding experience, she came to see the limitations of the traditional health system when it came to pain management.
A big culprit was the opioid crisis. Sullinger said that as far as her role as a pharmacist was concerned, the crisis came to a head a little more than two years ago: Her patients’ prescriptions for pain-management drugs were systematically reduced because doctors and healthcare systems were trying to address opioid addiction on a community level.
“I had patients who were in so much pain that they literally would stand there speaking in front of me with their eyes closed while I was talking to them,” Sullinger said. “And they’d look at me and they go, ‘This is not working.'”
She recalled experiences like a time when a parent came in to get medications for a child suffering from Crohn’s disease “who couldn’t get off the couch because he’s so sick” as key moments that prompted her family to get into the lawful cannabis industry.
“I just could not help these people who needed more help,” she said. “I had nowhere to send these people, no way to help them.”
So she and her husband decided to do it themselves, a theme that continued in their business planning. The Sullingers’ company is somewhat unusual among Missouri’s permitted cannabis ventures in that they didn’t hire expensive consultants to help them prepare their license application before sending it to state health authorities. Mark Sullinger simply filled out the forms, Dana said. Their application scored 159th out of more than 190 successful Missouri dispensary applications, according to data the Missouri health department provided the News-Leader in early 2020.
The dispensary is also somewhat unusual in that its waiting areas are relatively small, with seating divvied up into three areas in order to promote physical distancing. There’s also a metal detector set up at the entrance, a security measure that Sullinger said might be considered “a little over the top” but that she believes will reinforce a sense of safety for patients and caregivers. (Sullinger declined to state how much her family invested in creating the dispensary, but noted it was more than she expected to spend at the outset of the project.)
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Another part of their safety approach is attention to providing patients with detailed information on possible drug interactions between cannabis products and traditional prescription drugs, a topic Sullinger sees as very important.
The place is decorated in heather-gray, white and black hues, without a lot of marijuana-leaf imagery; the Sullingers wanted a “medical” feel in keeping with their pharmacy background. As a nod to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, there won’t be a lot of display cases showcasing marijuana products; instead, a staff member (there are roughly a half-dozen total) will take orders in the waiting area using a tablet computer. Once filled, a pharmacy-style window is available for payment.
Missouri Joint Ventures is equipped with a drive-through window, and Sullinger plans to have additional security help at opening time to address traffic.
Face coverings are required; Sullinger said they are taking the pandemic seriously and they are complying with the city of Nixa’s mayoral order on masking, first issued in October.
She expressed excitement to be serving the community where she and her husband have worked and raised their children.
“I expect to see some of my old customers, yes I do,” Sullinger said.
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