Interest in medical marijuana use has far outpaced expectations only five months into Missouri's new program.
Missouri issued close to 22,000 medical marijuana cards since July 4, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Researchers with the University of Missouri's Economic and Policy Analysis Research Center previously estimated that the state wouldn't reach that many patients until 2021.
"We have always predicted that the numbers would be far larger than the MU Economics study predicted," said Dan Viets, who leads the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association.
Missouri voters in 2018 made medical marijuana legal in the state. Patients with cancer, HIV, epilepsy and other conditions can apply for state-issued medical marijuana cards with a doctor's approval.
The Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association estimates that there could be at least 122,000 medical marijuana patients by the end of 2022.
Spokesman Jack Cardetti says that estimate is based on trends in states such as Colorado, where 2% to 3% of the population received cards after medical marijuana was approved.
The state health department plans to start awarding licenses for businesses to grow, dispense and make marijuana-infused products by January.
Nearly 700 groups filed a total of 2,163 marijuana businesses applications in Missouri. The state will issue only 60 licenses to grow pot, 86 to make marijuana-infused products and 192 to open dispensaries.
The University of Missouri study found that there likely won't be enough demand to support 60 marijuana farms in the first three years of the program. But Cardetti said an abundance of cannabis growers will ensure patient access and spur competition.
"We think that's good for patients, and we think that's good for the industry," Cardetti said.