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Ex-Walmart manager heads Missouri medical marijuana program

Like many elderly, frail people, Lyndall Fraker’s parents spent their final days on a morphine drip, drugged into incoherence.

Fraker, appointed in December to lead Missouri’s medical marijuana program, wonders now what the family missed out on in those days — what his parents might have told him and what he could have told them if they’d had an alternative that could dull their pain without dulling their minds so much.

“I’ve often thought about that since I’ve been put in this position,” Fraker said.

Fraker, a Republican grandfather about to turn 60, represents a new type of marijuana advocate — not the fervent, dedicated cannabis user, but a cautious social conservative who is nonetheless curious about what the plant could do and ready to take a step away from total prohibition.

He was an unconventional choice when Gov. Mike Parson tapped him to lead Missouri into the legal marijuana realm.

A termed-out House member, farmer and former Walmart manager who said he had never used cannabis himself, Fraker had no medical background. A powerful House colleague even introduced a bill that would have effectively thrown him out of the job — which pays $95,000.

But the bill requiring that the post be filled by a pharmacist didn’t go anywhere. And since taking over, Fraker and his small team have hit the tight deadlines mandated by the constitutional amendment voters passed in November. So far, things are running smoothly.

“He has really thrown himself into this job,” said Jack Cardetti, a Democratic political strategist who spearheaded the medical marijuana legalization campaign. “The implementation of Missouri’s program to this point far exceeds our expectation.”

Cardetti noted that in other states, medical marijuana programs have been beset by delays and even litigation.

In Oklahoma, for instance, regulators tried to place restrictions on the program that weren’t allowed under the ballot initiative passed by voters there. That led to multiple lawsuits and the state’s attorney general eventually stepped in.

But so far Missouri has seen none of that.

In fact, Fraker’s team got patient applications out a week ahead of schedule — in late June — and Cardetti said some people have already received their medical marijuana cards, again ahead of schedule.

“When he was chosen to lead this agency he clearly took that responsibility seriously,” Cardetti said. “He understood the magnitude of getting this right for patients, and he’s just done a really nice job.”

But the biggest challenges lie ahead for Fraker and his team. On Aug. 3, they will start accepting applications for licenses to grow, manufacture, sell and test marijuana products. A third-party contractor will score them, and the state will have to start doling out licenses by the end of the year.

Nearly 600 businesses statewide have already pre-filed applications (along with non-refundable fees totaling more than $4 million). Many will be turned down, especially in the Kansas City area.

“That’s going to be one of the most contentious parts of the program,” Fraker told The Kansas City Star .

Fraker lives in his hometown of Marshfield, a city of about 6,600 people near Springfield, on a farm that has been in his family for five decades.

He attended Missouri State University, but didn’t finish. After graduating from the Walton Institute of Retailing, he spent 17 years managing Walmart stores, including Marshfield’s, while also serving on about 10 local business, church and government boards.

He was elected to the Missouri House in 2010 by winning a tight three-way GOP primary in a district with no Democratic opponent.

His platform was that of a traditional conservative: anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-tax, pro-free enterprise. That ensured he was re-elected easily three times in his very red district and also lined him up squarely with the values of Parson, who served in the House and Senate at the same time.

Parson has picked at least a dozen former legislative colleagues for jobs in his administration since he took over for Eric Greitens last year, but it was still a bit of a surprise when he chose Fraker for the marijuana program.

Cardetti said Fraker was basically an unknown quantity for the marijuana industry and patient advocates, and they didn’t know what to expect. But they thought his closeness with Parson boded well for the marijuana program.

Fraker’s appointment sparked a rift within the Republican leadership.

Rep. Rob Vescovo, the House majority leader who had served with Fraker several years, took the rare step of introducing a bill that would have required the position to be filled by a pharmacist, essentially disqualifying Fraker before he even got started.

The governor’s office pushed back and the bill, HB509, never got a hearing.

Vescovo didn’t respond to requests for comment. Fraker was dismissive.

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