GOP-led bill to legalize marijuana in Missouri heads to house floor as key deadline nears


A GOP-led bill to legalize marijuana in Missouri was approved by a second House committee on Tuesday, sending the proposal to the prosecution just weeks before the end of the legislative session. Meanwhile, a separate campaign by activists and industry to put legalization on the ballot is also facing a tight deadline.

Rep. Ron Hicks (R) is sponsoring the ‘Cannabis Freedom Act’, which came out of the House Public Safety Committee in a close vote late last month and has now been approved by the committee legislative oversight rules in a 6-4 vote. .

The session to end on May 13, time is running out. But Hicks recently said the timeline remains workable and he’s “seen bills going through the process in a week.” The lawmaker said “it really depends on whether we have the will to tackle it.”

In addition to legalizing the possession and sale of cannabis, Hicks’ bill would further provide debarment opportunities, authorize social consumption facilities, and allow cannabis businesses to claim tax deductions from the state.

Advocates wanted to see the bill go through the committee process without revisions to the legislation presented, but members ended up passing several amendments in the previous committee before this latest action.

The changes relate to licensing caps, regulatory authority over the cannabis market and a proposal described by Hicks as a “poison pill” that imposes restrictions on who would qualify for equity benefits.

Eapen Thampy, a lobbyist for Great State Strategies, told Marijuana Moment that he expects an effort to be made to eliminate the licensing cap provision.

“I think the Missouri General Assembly is aware of the corruption and cronyism issues that have been the source of much controversy in our medical marijuana program,” he said. “There is a real interest right now in avoiding this outcome with a recreational program. Missouri Republicans and Democrats on this issue take a very free market view.

Here is what cannabis legislation would accomplish:

Possession, home cultivation and licensing

The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess cannabis from authorized retailers. There doesn’t seem to be a possession limit in the measure; it simply removes existing laws criminalizing the activity. Adults could also grow up to 12 plants for their personal use.

The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services would be responsible for regulating the adult use program, just as it currently does for medical cannabis. Before being amended in the Public Safety Committee last month, the Ministry of Agriculture, which deals with hemp, would have had this regulatory authority.

The ministry would be required to develop rules for issuing temporary and annual licenses to cannabis retailers, producers, processors, transporters and wholesale distributors.

As written, there would have been no cap on the number of licensees that could be approved. But as amended in Public Safety, it would double the number of current medical cannabis licensees in the state to serve the adult-use market.

Interestingly, the legislation also states that adults could “contract” with a licensed grower to grow up to 12 plants on their behalf for personal use and also work with licensed processors to produce marijuana products.

Social equity and consumer protection

Additionally, the measure contains expungement provisions, allowing those convicted of nonviolent marijuana for activities made legal under the bill to ask the courts to expunge their records. Those currently incarcerated would also be eligible for a new sentence, and those on probation or parole would be allowed to use marijuana.

Police would not be allowed to use the smell of marijuana alone to conduct a warrantless search of a person’s private property under the law. And cannabis could not be used “as a factor in family court proceedings.”

The bill further states that medical cannabis patient information cannot be shared with federal authorities.

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As part of the licensing amendment that passed in committee last month, language was added to create a loan scheme to help women- and minority-owned businesses participate in the market. However, a GOP member secured a change that could undermine Democratic support as he controversially revised the equity provisions to specify that only women who are “biologically” female would be eligible for the benefit.

Taxation, banking and social use

The state Department of Revenue would set a tax rate for adult marijuana sales that could not exceed 12%. There would be no such tax on medical cannabis products.

Taxpayer money the state generates from the recreational market would be deposited into a “cannabis freedom fund,” with revenue first covering the administrative costs of implementing the marijuana program. The remaining revenue would be “divided equally between teacher salaries, first responder pensions, and the Missouri Veterans’ Commission.”

Licensed marijuana businesses could also make tax deductions from the state up to the amount they would otherwise be eligible under federal law if they were operating in a federally legal industry. Cannabis businesses across the country are required to pay federal taxes, but they cannot receive tax benefits.

People who apply for a cannabis business license in Missouri and pay the application fee could also deduct that cost if they are ultimately denied the license.

by Hicks invoice also adopts a provision of a separate cannabis bill that would authorize “hospitality permits” so that hotels, bars and restaurants can “sell and serve marijuana or marijuana products at events or private places”.

Restrictions and room for improvement

Hicks pointed out in an earlier co-sponsorship memo to colleagues that his omnibus bill as written was “not perfect,” and he urged lawmakers to “continue to contribute as we go along.” let’s move forward in the legislative process”.

The lawmaker also specifically noted that it was working with members of the Black Caucus “to further ensure that startups in this market space can access loan and grant programs to ensure that entrepreneurs can compete on a competitive footing.” ‘equality”.

Meanwhile, another Missouri Republican lawmaker is pushing again to put cannabis legalization on the ballot. But some activists aren’t waiting for the legislature to take action to put the issue to voters, with a campaign officially kicking off signature collection last month for a separate reform initiative.

Rep. Shamed Dogan (R) tabled his joint resolution to place a constitutional amendment on legalization in the 2022 ballot. He put forward a similar proposal last year, but it did not move forward.

Under this plan, adults 21 and older could buy, possess and grow cannabis for personal use. It also does not specify the eligible amounts.

Another Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Jason Chipman (right), tabled a joint resolution this session that would allow voters to demand additional control over how medical cannabis tax revenue is distributed to veterans.

Separately, the group New Approach Missouri, which successfully pushed a medical cannabis initiative through voters in 2018, announced last summer its intention to put the reform proposal to the ballot through its new Legal Missouri 2022 campaign committee.

The organization tried to put the issue of legalization before voters in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that effort.

Despite the health crisis, activists managed to collect tens of thousands of raw signatures in a few months, when they needed 160,199 valid signatures to qualify.

A different campaign, Fair Access Missouri, separately explored several citizen initiatives this year in hopes of getting at least one on the ballot.

Another state lawmaker introduced a bill in late February to decriminalize a range of drugs, including marijuana, psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and cocaine.

The introduction of the measure came after a Republican lawmaker in Missouri introduced a separate bill to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD. through an expanded version of the state’s existing right to try law.

Additionally, a Missouri House committee held a hearing last month on a GOP-led bill to legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use in designated care settings while further decriminalizing possession of weak drugs. general level.

Nearly one in 10 jobs created in Missouri last year came from the state’s medical marijuana industry, according to an analysis of state labor data released by a trade group last month.

Separately, legislative drama is unfolding in the state over a proposal that supporters say would limit their ability to place constitutional amendments on the ballot.

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