Kelly Christensen is an entrepreneur and the owner of a small business.
In theory, Missouri legislators should admire her. Small businesses are the engine of the economy. How often do we hear that?
Christensen is 41 years old. She grew up in Webster Groves. She earned a degree in fine art from Washington University. While pursuing that degree, she took business classes. That is a very sensible thing for an art major to do, and it worked out well for Christensen.
She went into the holistic self-health business. First, she worked at The Natural Way, a “health food” store. (In the not so long ago, health and food did not often find themselves in the same sentence.) Eventually, she got into the wholesale side of the industry. She worked as a broker and sales rep for supplement makers.
In 2017, she opened a boutique CBD oil store in Maplewood. Think of CBD oil as pot without THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In other words, CBD oil does not get you high.
However, the oil is supposed to have therapeutic properties. Advocates say it can reduce anxiety, pain and nausea.
So that has been Christensen’s business. She has been quite successful. In fact, she has opened two more stores, one in Des Peres and one in Arnold. She employs eight women. She does not talk about female empowerment as much as she lives it. She is divorced.
When the voters endorsed the idea of medical marijuana, Christensen thought she was perfectly positioned to open a dispensary. She decided to apply for a license. And more. Why not think big? She found six equity partners. Three local women joined Christensen on the management team. Two women with degrees in Naturopathic Medicine were part of the medical team. They were joined by a pharmacist, the only male.
In addition to the dispensary license, Christensen applied for a license to grow pot and to manufacture marijuana-infused edibles.
The only person on the team from out of state was Jade Stefano. Her inclusion gave the team real-world experience. She and her husband own Puffin Farms, a marijuana farm in the state of Washington. It is a distinguished pot farm, winner of the High Times Cannabis Cup.
Christensen also retained the services of an accounting firm, a law firm, a bank, an architectural firm and a security firm. She had a viable plan to raise more than enough cash, and she had the blessing of Maplewood, where she planned to have a dispensary and the manufacturing plant.
“I studied the applications, and I though I had all the boxes checked,” she told me.
Well, maybe she didn’t have all the boxes checked. She didn’t hire a lobbyist. From the beginning of the process, cynics have speculated about the importance of political connections. Who knows?
Christensen applied for her licenses in August. The day after Christmas, she learned she did not get the cultivation license. A couple of weeks later, she received notice of denial on the manufacturing license. A couple of weeks after that, she was turned down for a dispensary license.
No reasons were given for the denials.
In fact, very little information has been given out at all. Even now, after the dispensary licenses have been awarded, the state won’t release the names of the owners, just the names of the limited liability companies and the name of the person, often a lawyer, who turned in the application. Although the rules require that a local person has to have at least 51% ownership, we know that some of the winners have out-of-state connections.
It might well be that all the winners are worthy.
It does seem unfair, though, that some companies got multiple dispensary licenses — one St.Louis company got five — while others, like Christensen, were shut out.
Call me an old-school capitalist, but I disagree with the idea of limiting the number of dispensaries. Sell a license to anybody who wants one, and let the free market pick the winners.
In that kind of robust competition, I suspect these women would have done just fine. They’re educated professionals, but they come with that holistic, no-added-preservatives kind of thinking that goes well with medicinal pot. The chief financial officer, for instance, is not only a CPA, she’s an herbalist.
Also, she’s African-American, a group which I suspect will be under-represented in the ownership ranks.
As it is now, Christensen is out a ton of money. In addition to $30,000 in nonrefundable license application fees, she spent thousands of dollars for professional services. She could appeal, but she figures that would be throwing good money after bad.
Perhaps the worst part is this — medicinal marijuana will almost surely put CBD oil shops out of business.