Operating under names like Green Releaf Dispensary and CoMo Gro, 25 businesses and individuals have paid thousands of dollars in application fees for the chance to operate a medical marijuana facility in Columbia.

Entrepreneurs filed paperwork and paid fees to apply for 22 dispensary licenses, seven cultivation licenses and three manufacturing licenses in Columbia, according to records from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The hopefuls looking to enter the marijuana market include businesses already involved in cannabis-related retail in the city, such as American Shaman and Grass Roots Smoke Shop, as well as newcomers to the industry. Fifteen of the applicants had Columbia mailing addresses.

Two people — Shruti Patel and Adam Fuchs — have filed paperwork seeking to operate all three types of facilities in Columbia. Neither could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Businesses will not be able to file formal applications to sell marijuana until Aug. 3, but more than 500 people statewide have already paid their application fee in advance of the application date.

Paying the fee — $6,000 for dispensary and manufacturer applications and $10,000 for cultivator applications — is the first step toward competing for a share of the lucrative medical marijuana business in Missouri, which could grow into a $480 million a year industry, according to the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association.

The state has already collected $3.9 million in application fees and is expected to begin licensing businesses by the end of the year.

Current medical marijuana rules allow licenses for 192 dispensaries, 86 infused-product facilities and 60 cultivation facilities, which would be dispersed across eight regions in the state, as reported by the Missourian.

The list of people and businesses who have paid the pre-filed license application fees was first obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The news organization attempted to obtain the information from the state through a public records request, and, when that failed, it filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s authority to keep the records closed.

A Cole County judge ruled in favor of the Post-Dispatch on June 21, and the department released the records to the news organization Tuesday afternoon.

Jill Wren of Columbia said Wednesday she decided to seek a permit to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the city due, in part, to the death of a friend, Nichelle Lawrence.

She said Lawrence, who died in 2016, suffered from multiple sclerosis and used cannabis for medical reasons.

“It was a hard, hard road for her,” Wren said. “One of the only ways she could get through the day was by using cannabis.”

Wren said she relied on her family for help navigating the regulations surrounding the burgeoning industry. Wren said her father is a pharmacist and her brother developed software for the cannabis industry in Colorado.

Wren said she was also a member of the conference-organizing committee for the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association, which has connected her with professionals in the industry.

Wren said she was still working on a location for the dispensary.

Brad Beard said he and his two sons applied for a license, though they feared they would be beaten out by well-financed companies from Colorado and California.

The Beards own and operate American Shaman, a Columbia shop that sells CBD oil, which is extracted from cannabis. He said the business has been very successful, and he hoped the family’s experience in the CBD industry would give them an edge.

Beard said if they did not get a license, they would have to eat the cost of the $6,000 application fee, but the chance to get into the marijuana market at the very beginning was worth the risk.

“If you get picked, you are going to be well, well off,” he said.

Supervising editor is Olivia Garrett.

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