A Missouri lawmaker introduced a comprehensive bill to legalize recreational cannabis on Tuesday. The measure, titled the Cannabis Freedom Act (HB 2704), was introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives by Representative Ron Hicks, a Republican from St. Charles.
If passed, the bill would legalize cannabis for adult-use, regulate recreational cannabis commerce and expunge convictions for past cannabis-related offenses. In a statement, Hicks acknowledged the assistance from interested parties and an Oklahoma colleague in drafting the legislation.
“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. “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.”
Bill Legalizes Recreational Cannabis Possession and Sales
Under the bill, adults 21 and older would be permitted to purchase and use recreational cannabis. Adults would be also be allowed to grow up to 12 cannabis plants at home for personal use.
The bill tasks the Missouri Department of Agriculture with regulating the recreational cannabis program. The department would draft the rules for the program and issue licenses for cannabis producers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, without caps on the number of licenses that could be issued to qualified cannabis businesses.
The Cannabis Freedom Act directs the state Department of Revenue to set a tax of up to 12 percent on recreational cannabis products. Medical cannabis purchases by registered patients would not be subject to the retail tax. Revenue raised by marijuana taxes would be used to administer the recreational cannabis program, with the remainder divided equally among the Missouri Veterans Commission and funding for teachers’ salaries and pensions for first responders.
The legislation prohibits state financial regulators from denying or impeding access to banking services by legal cannabis businesses. Licensed cannabis businesses would be permitted to take state deductions for business expenses not allowed under federal law, and companies denied licenses would be allowed to deduct fees paid to apply.
Christina Thompson of ShowMe Canna-Freedom, a group advocating for marijuana policy reform in Missouri, said that Hicks’ bill would create a cannabis industry for businesses of all sizes.
“The Cannabis Freedom Act provides a fair, open market that every Missourian can participate in,” Thompson told local media. “The cannabis community desperately needs this piece of legislation, and I’m hopeful that our lawmakers will understand just how vital it is that this passes.”
Measure Expunges Cannabis Convictions
The legislation also includes provisions for the expungement of convictions for nonviolent marijuana-related activities legalized by the bill. Those currently incarcerated would be eligible for resentencing, and those with past convictions would be permitted to petition the court to have their records expunged. The bill also permits those on probation or parole to use cannabis. Additionally, the odor of cannabis would no longer be considered probable cause for a law enforcement officer to conduct a search without a warrant.
Daniel Jones, a former Rolla City councilman and U.S. Navy veteran, praised the reformative justice provisions of the legislation.
“I am heartened to see that the Cannabis Freedom Act contains full release and expungement protocols for marijuana-only offenders,” said Jones. “The passage of this proposal will represent a historic victory for civil rights and individual liberty in America.”
New Haven Police Chief Chris Hammann and former Carter County prosecutor Rocky Kingree also expressed support for cannabis legalization in Missouri.
“Law enforcement does not need to be tasked with the thankless job of marijuana prohibition anymore and the Cannabis Freedom Act allows for the reparative justice actions that will continue the work of repairing the relationship and trust between the government and its citizens,” the law enforcement officials said in a joint statement.
Ballot Initiative Efforts Also Underway
The Cannabis Freedom Act gives Missouri another potential avenue for marijuana policy reform. Last year, the group Fair Access Missouri launched an initiative campaign to amend the state constitution to legalize recreational cannabis possession, production, and sales. Additionally, a separate initiative effort by the group Legal Missouri 2022 that is endorsed by the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL) would also legalize recreational cannabis in the state.
“The automatic expungement of non-violent marijuana offenses would be among the most significant—and overdue—criminal justice reforms in our state’s history,” said Fawzy Simon, MACDL president. “It’s a matter of basic fairness. Simply put, the legalization of marijuana for adult use must relieve otherwise law-abiding Missourians of the consequences of activity that is no longer considered criminal. In practical terms, this will provide a fresh start to tens of thousands of state residents.”