Gregory J. Holman
| Springfield News-Leader
A new medical marijuana dispensary, OzaRX Botanicals, is on the cusp of getting its “commencement” paperwork from state authorities, and its owners say they want to be open to sell marijuana as soon as possible afterward.
On social media last week they announced a soft opening for Thursday to allow Missouri medical marijuana cardholders to get pre-registered in store systems and meet the staff over the New Year’s holiday weekend.
OzaRX Botanicals is the first dispensary in south Springfield and just the second retail cannabis store to open in the Queen City since Missouri voters opted for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment back in 2018.
“As soon as we get that letter, then I can contact our supplier and be able to get product in that following Monday,” said Kim Andrews, one of a group of seven shareholders in the business. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed Thursday that the process is underway for an inspection visit at Andrews’ facility.
Springfield’s first dispensary, Old Route 66 Wellness, opened in early November, not long after the first such outlet in southwest Missouri, Cassville Dispensary.
In Springfield and elsewhere, Missouri’s medical cannabis system is slowly coming online. According to the most recent health department data, Missouri has just 40 licensed marijuana businesses (out of 372) that are approved to operate. The Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association said Thursday that 20 of those are dispensaries (out of a system of 192 planned ones), while just 12 of 60 planned cultivation centers are certified to operate.
Meanwhile, roughly 87,000 Missourians have put in applications for medical marijuana cards, according to the most recent health department data.
OzaRX Botanicals sits in a shopping strip on the 3800 block of West Sunshine Street near the intersection with West Bypass, a part of southwest Springfield with major recent commercial development.
Their storefront is across the road from a busy Menard’s that opened in the summer of 2018. Similarly, a number of brands including Ross Dress for Less, Central Bank and Taco Bell also opened new locations that are just steps away from the spot that OzaRX Botanicals rented out as they applied for their state-issued dispensary permit in 2019.
A family tragedy
Andrews acknowledged that the process from planning the business through to opening day has been delayed by a number of factors, not least the novel coronavirus.
OzaRX Botanicals is mainly a family project, Andrews said, and in November, six family members were infected by COVID-19.
“COVID was brutal,” she told the News-Leader in a late-December email.
It also claimed her father’s life: Larry Ellison, 74, died Dec. 2 after being hospitalized with the disease.
It was a family tragedy and one for Missouri’s community of cannabis entrepreneurs, Andrews told the News-Leader, a catch of emotion in her voice.
Ellison had a gift for connecting and orchestrating the relatively big group of shareholders in their closely held business, Andrews said. He was a career accounting executive who worked with firms like BKD and KPM before getting into the marijuana business. A meticulous businessman with an accountant’s attention to “ticking all the boxes” in terms of legal requirements, he was probably the last person one might expect to branch out into cannabis — which remains the object of federal prohibition despite growing acceptance among Americans in many walks of life.
Yet, like so many others, Andrews said Ellison had a family member who found cannabis as treatment to be helpful in battling a serious disease. His attitudes toward the plant began to change. After much due diligence, Ellison stepped into the fray of what Andrews and others believe will become a billion-dollar industry for Missouri in the coming years.
“This was his goal,” Andrews said. “This is his vision. I mean, we’ve all become part of the vision, but initially, this was his vision. And so the fact that he’s not going to see that opening day is hard.”
What will patients see when they visit? Inside, OzaRX Botanicals has a sleek showroom fashioned by a local interior decorator where cardholders can shop for different types of cannabis flower, CBD products, vaporizers and even water pipes and other gear decorated by top New York designers. Sample flower buds will be stored in transparent cubes linked to showcase counters by retractable cables. Shoppers can pick up the cubes to sniff the different plant strains, or examine them under a built-in magnifier, before they buy.
There’s a pair of consultation desks (one in a private room) where a registered nurse will be able to provide health information on topics like potential prescription-drug interactions with cannabis. Showroom display cases and points of sale have surfaces that can raise or lower to accommodate persons with disabilities. Andrews also said they designed the infill with a view toward being able to move furniture around to accommodate events, once health conditions permit.
As part of their health and safety precautions, cardholders will be able to queue up using an electronic notification system that allows the store’s security “greeter” to let them know when they can come into the building, minimizing crowds. Andrews likened the queue to restaurant reservation systems and said it will allow people to get in line, then leave the store area to swing by the nearby Walmart or other retail.
Andrews said they set up the place so that should Missouri opt to add “full adult-use” or recreational marijuana sales, they can add a pickup window. (The real estate’s configuration didn’t allow for drive-through windows like the ones at the region’s two other dispensaries, Andrews said.)
OzaRX Botanicals hired about 10 employees, Andrews said, including Josh Roberts, who said he was a 16-year manager for Vintage Stock.
“It’s pure customer service,” Roberts told the News-Leader by way of describing how he’s transitioning into the cannabis field. “Yeah, it’s a lot more regulated, but other than that, it’s just all about customer service. We are helping people match their ailment with the products we have.”
Andrews and Roberts urged people to follow the dispensary on the OzaRX Botanicals Facebook page and other social media.