Activists Urge Missouri Lawmakers to Pre-Empt Cannabis Ballot Campaign

Critics say the Missouri ballot initiative would limit competition in an emerging cannabis market and legislation would improve.
Missouri
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Supporters of a Republican-backed bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Missouri gathered at the state capitol in Jefferson City on Tuesday in an attempt to head off momentum for a ballot initiative that would also seek to end the prohibition on pot. They would prefer to see things done via legislation. 

The bill, known as the Cannabis Freedom Act, was introduced last month by GOP state House Representative Ron Hicks.

If it were to become law, the bill in question would legalize marijuana use for adults aged 21 and older while also establishing a regulated cannabis market in the state. It would also expunge some previous cannabis convictions for certain offenders. 

“The Cannabis Freedom Act is the product of input from many different stakeholders including members of law enforcement and those who have endured incarceration for conduct that society now deems acceptable,” Hicks said in an interview after introducing the bill. “I am particularly grateful for input from Oklahoma State Representative Scott Fetgatter for his assistance in creating a free market program that is also strictly regulated.”

On Tuesday in Jefferson City, supporters of Hicks’ proposal like Christina Thompson, a cannabis reform activist in the state, pitted the bill against a campaign called Legal Missouri, which aims to get an initiative on the state ballot this year to legalize recreational pot. The group must collect roughly 170,000 valid signatures in order for the initiative to qualify for the ballot this election cycle. 

As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the initiative would “give current medical marijuana businesses the first shot at full recreational sales and keep in place the state’s ability to limit licenses.”

“This initiative (Legal Missouri 2022) eliminates nearly all competition through constitutionally protected license caps,” said Thompson, as quoted by the Post-Dispatch. “Recreational licenses created under the initiative will go straight to established businesses as well, meaning instead of opening up more business opportunities for others; money only goes to those who are already profiting.”

“The lack of competition and artificially inflated prices fuel the black market,” she added regarding the initiative. “Millions in lost revenue for our state is instead funding drug cartels, human trafficking and more while desperate patients are victimized.”

The newspaper said that Hicks’ bill “doesn’t limit marijuana business licenses,” and would both “allow home cultivators to possess up to 12 flowering plants and would permit dispensary sales to be taxed at up to 12 percent” and eliminate “civil asset forfeiture for marijuana and places regulation of the adult-use program under the control of the ‘Cannabis Enforcement Authority,’ which would be housed in the Department of Agriculture.”

The Legal Missouri Campaign has countered the critics by saying “that while current medical marijuana licensees would be able to convert their medical licenses into comprehensive ones, so-called microlicenses would be available to historically disadvantaged groups in the recreational program’s first days,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

“All new licenses for the first 548 days will be microlicenses reserved for smaller operators and individuals and groups who have been adversely affected by our current, unjust laws prohibiting marijuana,” said Legal Missouri campaign manager John Payne. “As in most states, medical marijuana facilities will also start to convert their licenses to comprehensive licenses.”

Missouri voters passed a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis in 2018, and the state’s first dispensaries opened in the fall of 2020.
Last September, less than a year after the launch of the medical program, the state reported it had more than 140 dispensaries employing around 5,000 people. By July of last year, the state said the medical cannabis sales had already exceeded $91 million.

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