St. Louis-based BeLeaf Medical became the first medical cannabis cultivator in Missouri to launch operations June 11, and as a vertically integrated company with 10 total licenses in the state, President Kevin Riggs says there is much more to come.
BeLeaf’s Sinse cultivation facility in St. Louis County was the first grow operation to receive approval from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services after passing all required inspections. The company holds a total of three cultivation licenses, two manufacturing licenses and five dispensary licenses in the greater St. Louis area.
The team behind BeLeaf held a license from the Missouri Department of Agriculture for the past five years to grow industrial hemp for CBD, which makes for a natural transition to the medical cannabis industry, Riggs says.
“We’re very blessed and comfortable to be able to win the ten licenses when those were announced in December and January of this year,” he tells Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “The first one’s out of the box with more to come.”
The company’s five-year head start as a CBD company has allowed it to build a talented team, which Riggs says is BeLeaf’s strongest asset in Missouri’s nascent medical cannabis market.
“Our group of owners [has] a very deep business background as well as a cannabis business background, so we feel very comfortable that we’ll be able to ensure that our products and our business model [are] successful,” he says.
Overall, Riggs says he is pleased with Amendment 2, the initiative voters passed in 2018 to legalize medical cannabis in the state.
“It’s very friendly to the business community, it’s very friendly to the consumption community [and] it’s also very friendly toward home growers,” he says. “I think it’s a really nice amalgamation of different things that have worked in other states, so I’m very pleased with that.”
Missouri’s patient count has been on a steady climb, and Riggs hopes the number of registered patients will reach 100,000 by the time sales launch, which he estimates will be in about 90 days, when the state has its first cannabis harvest and product is distributed to dispensaries.
BeLeaf plans to open its first dispensary in St. Peters under the Swade brand, and Missouri’s medical cannabis law allows licensed cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries to buy and sell product within the supply chain.
One of the biggest unanswered questions, Riggs says, is what sales trends will look like in the early days of the market and how these trends will evolve as the market matures.
As more cultivators receive approval to operate and begin ramping up production, the market will need time to find its footing, Riggs says, and he expects it to be at least a year before supply and demand find their balance.
“I think we’re looking [at] probably a one-year maturation where, at that point, all of the licensees should be up and running [and] people will familiarize themselves with the brands and the locations and the people that they want to do business with,” he says. “I think in a year, that’s when you’re going to start to see answers to some of those questions.”
Another big question mark right now, Riggs adds, is the COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus crisis first reached the U.S. earlier this spring, the BeLeaf team was focused on fundraising and building out its cultivation facility, which were unique challenges in the wake of an unprecedented pandemic.
“None of it qualified for the paycheck protection plan,” Riggs says. “There are a lot of things that the cannabis industry has had to overcome and has to deal with because of the federal laws that we’re all living under.”
Still, these unique obstacles have kept the BeLeaf team nimble, allowing them to adapt to everchanging regulations and challenges, which Riggs says will ultimately serve the business well as it continues building out its operations in Missouri.
“You almost have to assume that whatever business model and whatever plans you have, that you leave enough opportunity to be flexible moving forward."