- D. H. Reilly
Update on Missouri's Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiatives and Legislative Action
Cannabis activists who would like to see legalization go beyond getting a Missouri Marijuana Card are running out of time to bring recreational legalization to the Show Me State. Running out of time - but not hope.
The state House is currently considering HB 2704, a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana, double the number of licensed dispensaries, and clear the way for expungement for people with nonviolent marijuana crimes on their records. On a second front, advocates are circulating an initiative petition, Legal MO 2022, to get recreational marijuana on the November ballot. The ballot initiative would also legalize recreational use, expand the market, and lead to criminal expungements, although in very different ways.
Both efforts have their detractors, and both are running out of time.
Both Reform Efforts Would Legalize Recreational Marijuana, Expand Cannabis Market
HB 2704, the so-called Cannabis Freedoms Act, advanced out of the House Rules Committee on April 19 but is still awaiting a debate by the full chamber.
The bill is not only running out of time to be passed out of the 2022 session, but amendments made to the bill have left its sponsor in the House opposed to the bill in its current form. Representative Ron Hicks is fighting to pass the bill while simultaneously trying to change it, indicating the level of difficulty involved in seeing its passage before the end of the session, on May 30.
Marijuana Reform Efforts Differ on Licensing Cannabis Businesses
The primary difference between the Legal MO 2022 ballot initiative and HB 2704 is in the way licensing of marijuana businesses would be handled. Under current law, the number of licensed businesses is capped at 338. Both efforts would expand that number but go about that expansion in very different ways.
Supporters of a recreational marijuana ballot initiative say their proposal would not only open legal marijuana use to all Missourians, not just those with qualifying conditions, but it would do so in a way that would curtail the cannabis black market. Although the initiative is vague on the number of new licenses that would be issued, it does explicitly allow the state to continue to cap the number. Supporters of the initiative say it would deter the black market by cutting down on the amount of marijuana currently legally in circulation. The idea is that the more marijuana available for legal purchase, the more likely it is that some of those products will end up on the street.
Ben Hartley, founder of Real Legalization Missouri, told KCUR, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, that in reality the licensing cap is likely to be a boon to the black market.
“License caps always serve and protect an isolated market,” Hartley said. “And if you make it impossible for small operators, they’re going to grow underground. It’s not going to stop. It’ll be bigger and badder. And, you’ll have a situation like California, Oklahoma, you name it, black markets, just destroying the legal market. Better prices, better product.”
The sponsor of HB 2704 also opposes caps, which is why Hicks is now on the fence about his own bill.
HB 2704 Sponsor Opposes Licensing Caps, Favoring Existing Licensees
HB 2704 was originally written to impose no cap on the number of licenses issued to marijuana businesses. “Why would we cap business licenses on this industry when you have no other industry?” Hicks rhetorically asked a reporter from the Missouri Independent.
“We don’t do it for alcohol,” Hicks said. “You can open a liquor store and I can open the store, and if your business plan is better and your prices are better and your customer service is better, you’re gonna outdo me and my doors will eventually close. That’s how it’s supposed to work in America. That’s the free-market system.”
But HB 2704 was opposed by the state’s medical marijuana industry, prompting the Rules Committee to amend the bill to cap new licensees at double the current level.
“I want that amendment off the bill,” Hicks told the Independent.
Besides License Caps, Reform Efforts Differ in How Licenses Would be Awarded
Beyond the number of new licensees, the two reform efforts would also award licenses differently.
Under Legal MO 2022, current medical marijuana license holders would get first dibs at recreational marijuana licenses, with new licenses being awarded through a lottery process.
According to Representative Ashley Bland-Manlove, the voter initiative would unfairly advantage existing licensees, while continuing to lock out applicants who were denied medical marjiuana business licenses.
“Eighty percent of the licenses will go to persons who already have a medical license,” Bland-Manlove told KCUR. “So that means nobody else new gets into this industry, which is heart-wrenching since so many people I know – people who actually put blood money, like their settlements from car accidents, to try and get into the medical industry. So again, just further hunkering down on the monopoly that has already basically started,” she said.
Bland-Manlove had worked closely with Hicks to advance HB 2704, but like him she too is now uncertain of her support given the bill’s current form.
Marijuana Reform Efforts both Allow Expungement of Criminal Records
Both HB 2704 and Legal MO 2022 would also allow for the expungement of criminal records related to marijuana, but they would also handle that issue very differently as well.
Legal MO 2022 would automatically expunge minor possession charges for anyone currently on probation or parole. Petitions would need to be filed with the courts in order for people previously on probation or parole to have their records expunged.
HB 2704 would not automatically expunge nonviolent offenses, but anyone could petition the courts at any time to have such offenses expunged. Bland-Manlove would also like to see an amendment to the bill to dedicate 20% of state revenue from legalization to be dedicated to expungement records.
And regardless of HB 2704’s final fate, she remains adamantly opposed to Legal MO 2022.
“Just like any other campaign that is not good for my community, I stand up against it, and so right now, I’m standing up against the Legal MO ‘22 petition,” she told KCUR. If the petition fails, “I’ll take that as a win,” Bland-Manlove said. “Because the petition is just not good.”
One Thing That’s Definitely Good: Finding Relief with Medical Marijuana
While there may be parts of both of these cannabis reform efforts that are “just not good,” one thing that’s definitely good is that suffering Missourans can get relief from their qualifying conditions by getting a Missouri Marijuana Card.
If you haven’t looked into getting your card yet, or if you’ve been discouraged by the complicated process, we’re here to help! Our medical team will guide you through the process, making it quick and easy to find out if you qualify and to get your card. Schedule an appointment online today by CLICKING HERE, or call us at (877) 303-3117 to talk to a patient support representative.
Doctors Who Care.
Relief You Can Trust.
At Missouri Marijuana Card, our mission is helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce the stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.
Call us at (877) 303-3117, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!
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