Missouri needs free market marijuana reforms now

Marijuana

(Missouri Independent) – In 2018, 66% of Missouri voters voted to legalize medical marijuana, picking a Constitutional amendment proposal floated by a group called New Approach Missouri.

Two and a half years later, access to medical marijuana remains limited, due to both a cap on the number of licenses and the extremely high regulatory compliance burden that marijuana businesses must meet to be certified for operation. This situation puts many of those eligible for medical marijuana in limbo, as legal market scarcity creates persistently high prices.

The license caps in particular have led to great controversy.

Over 2,200 applications were filed for marijuana cultivation, processing, testing, transportation, and retail businesses, but less than 370 of those applications were approved. Many applicants who were denied for licensing alleged significant problems in the scoring process, particularly identical applications which were scored differently. Allegations of conflicts of interest were common — a former employee for license consultant Canna Advisors was part Wise Health Solutions, the company that graded the applications.

Controversy has also centered around the role of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, which represents roughly 80% of the companies that won licenses.

The association’s spokesman, who also helped run the New Approach Missouri campaign in 2018, is fond of saying “Missourians don’t want a dispensary on every corner” as a defense of license caps, a sentiment belied by the more than 1,800 license applications that were denied, the 853 license applicants who chose to appeal their denials, and the nearly 25,000 Missourians who have so far obtained a personal cultivation approval allowing them to grow 6 mature marijuana plants.

This situation is at odds with Missouri values of equal opportunity and agriculture.

If all 2,200 applications in Missouri had been approved, hundreds of millions of dollars of capital investment would have created thousands of jobs and improved hundreds of communities around the state. Moreover, federal legalization is on the horizon — meaning Missouri entrepreneurs and farmers will have the opportunity to create exportable brands and products for a global market. 

The domestic market in the United States for legal marijuana will be in the neighborhood of $40 billion by 2025. In Missouri alone, we can expect nearly $2 billion in economic activity when adult-use (or recreational) marijuana is legalized. These are significant figures, and Missourians deserve the chance to stake a claim in a new industry.

This year, Missouri Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, proposed a joint resolution (no pun intended, we’re sure) that would have stripped license caps and unnecessary regulation from the existing medical marijuana program, legalized adult-use marijuana, and allowed for expungement of criminal records for those who have marijuana convictions.

Because a joint resolution is the pathway the legislature can use to put a proposal to the voters, it would not require the endorsement of Gov. Mike Parson.

Only the Missouri General Assembly can credibly commit to these reforms in a way that allows all stakeholders to transparently provide input and to further protect the opportunity that is the birthright of every Missourian. Rep. Dogan’s joint resolution is the right way to move forward with ending marijuana prohibition in Missouri, and we urge lawmakers to do the hard work of addressing this issue in Missouri instead of leaving it up to the self-interest of the current medical marijuana cartel.

Bharani Kumar

https://www.missouriindependent.com

Bharani Kumar is a former president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Missouri-Columbia and works on marijuana licensing reform, legalization, drug decriminalization, and psychedelic reform through the Crossing Paths Political Action Committee.