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The owner of Cassville Dispensary in the rural Missouri Ozarks says her business is 'patient oriente

 Charlea Estes-Jones and Dr. Lisa Roark stand in front of Cassville Dispensary (photo taken September, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
Charlea Estes-Jones and Dr. Lisa Roark stand in front of Cassville Dispensary (photo taken September, 2023)

The dispensary — in the small town of Cassville — was one of the first to open in the state.

In the beautiful hills and hollers of the Missouri Ozarks sits the small city of Cassville, which boasts a population of just over 3000. And, in the nearby area, it’s one of the largest towns around. There are lots of mom and pop businesses sitting alongside chains like McDonalds and Walmart.

And located on a hill above Highway 76, which eventually takes you to Roaring River State Park, on the southern edge of town is the Cassville Dispensary.

 Cannabis products for sale at the Cassville Dispensary (photo taken in September, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
Cannabis products for sale at the Cassville Dispensary (photo taken in September, 2023)

Assistant manager Isaac Estes-Jones gave a tour of the sales floor. The business sells a variety of products including cannabis flower, vape cartridges, concentrates, pain patches, topical lotions and salves, tinctures, chocolates, medicated dried fruit, sodas, suppositories, cannabis oil and more.

The beginning

The dispensary opened its doors in October of 2020 – only the third one to do so in all of Missouri -- to serve medical patients after medical marijuana was approved in the state.

It was the dream of Dr. Lisa Roark, a medical doctor who has a direct primary care clinic in Cassville, which serves an area where she was born and raised.

She was introduced to cannabis and its medicinal benefits by a patient whose child suffered from a seizure disorder. The patient asked Dr. Roark if she would consider trying cannabis to treat him. That’s when she began studying it.

Fast forward a bit, and Dr. Roark was allowing those gathering signatures to get the medical marijuana issue on the ballot in Missouri to do so in front of her clinic. That attracted lots of media attention.

Then Amendment 2 was approved by voters.

“It became a very natural progression after we did the work to actually get medical marijuana approved, ‘well, I want the best options for my patients.’ And I knew that no one would probably put a dispensary in Cassville or, if they did, it would not be patient oriented,” Roark said.

Today, the Cassville Dispensary treats a regular stream of customers – some who drive for hours to purchase their cannabis products.

 Charlea Estes-Jones and Dr. Lisa Roark
Michele Skalicky
Charlea Estes-Jones and Dr. Lisa Roark

Roark worked closely with Charlea Estes-Jones -- who is now the general manager for the dispensary -- to get the business going. When Roark found out she’d been granted a license by the state, she was struggling with some serious medical issues, and that partnership and friendship proved to be even more valuable.

Estes-Jones met Roark during her 12 years as a journalist.

"I was really excited, honestly, to see this, like, ballsy, outspoken woman who was a doctor who was saying, ‘I don’t care what other people think.’ I’m like, ‘I also don’t care what other people think,’" she said. "And I, like, also have a really big mouth when it’s the right thing to do.”

Estes-Jones’ father was diagnosed with terminal cancer when she was a teenager and was given just a few months to live – he made it two and a half years. She said she believes it was CBD that prolonged his life. When she heard Dr. Roark was planning to open a dispensary, she knew she wanted to be part of it.

“There is so much bad out in the world, and I want to be able to be a part of the good," said Estes-Jones, "and what she was going to do was exactly what I wanted to do with my life, too.”

She wasn’t a cannabis user then, but later when she got sick and had to have brain surgery, she began using it. And her friendship with Dr. Roark came full circle when it was the doctor helping her as she recovered – with things like pizza night for her kids.

Pushback

It wasn’t easy setting up a marijuana dispensary in a small town in the rural Ozarks with conservative values. Roark said there was pushback from residents in the beginning and there still is today. People have difficulty with change, she said, and what they brought to Cassville was a huge change.

“And there is a huge group in this little town that will stop me in Walmart and tell me ‘thank you,’" she said. "But there’s probably equal numbers that will scowl at me as I pass by.”

Still, she did her best at the beginning to get people onboard with the idea.

“Initially, my stance was, ‘you know me. I’m the Rotary president. You know me, and you know I’m not going to bring something in here that’s going to hurt our town. Somebody will. Somebody will bring something in,’" she said. "So, my stance was ‘do you want it to be someone else that you have, you know, no ties to, or do you want it to be someone local who wants the best thing for our community?’”

 Cassville Dispensary and Happy Hippie Wellness in Cassville, MO (photo taken September, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
Cassville Dispensary and Happy Hippie Wellness in Cassville, MO (photo taken September, 2023)

Patient-focused

Estes-Jones and Roark said the Cassville Dispensary is patient-focused and always will be. Even when recreational marijuana was approved in Missouri, they got a comprehensive license to sell it, in part, so they could continue to keep costs down for medical customers.

The cost for cannabis flower is significantly higher since recreational marijuana passed, Roark said. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. Roark would like to see marijuana legalized at the federal level, which she believes will make it more affordable for everyone.

With recreational adult use legalized in the state, the Cassville Dispensary has gone from 70 to 100 customers per day to more than 400.

Estes-Jones said, for them, it’s not at all about profit but about their customers. What they sell on the medical side, she said, they sell at cost.

"We’re not here to charge the highest amount we can. We’re not here to say, ‘oh, well, if you want one of those, I can sell you seven.’ We’re not here to take your last dime," she said. "We’re here to get you the help that you need and to build that relationship of trust.”

Roark said the Cassville Dispensary offers a lot of discounts and even has a compassionate care program for people who can’t afford their medicine. They're one of the few independently owned dispensaries left in Missouri.

They even sell grow-your-own items, and they teach classes on that subject and more. The goal, Roark said, is for people to get their medicine.

She has recently added a retail shop, Happy Hippie Wellness, next to the dispensary that sells things like crystals, hippie clothes and supplies for cannabis users.

And she said they’re doing well.

“The bills are paid. The staff all have their paychecks paid every two weeks or whatever," she said. "Nobody’s going without, and the patients have what they need.”
Copyright 2023 KSMU. To see more, visit KSMU.

Michele Skalicky