Missouri Republican Floats Marijuana Legalization Legislation
Will voters have the chance to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri?
Newly submitted legislation proposes to put the issue to voters on the state’s 2022 ballot.
Should it pass, the bill would create a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana for all adults in Missouri
Legalization would also expunge convictions for non-violent marijuana offenses.
As early as November of 2022 Missourians may count themselves amongst the handful of cannabis-friendly states to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana in Missouri. That is, of course, if voters are on board with the plan put forth by Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan last week. The bold proposal would dismantle the existing Missouri medical marijuana law and allow access to all adults over the age of 21 in addition to qualified medical marijuana patients.
In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, last Tuesday Dogan stated, “I believe in free markets, and I want to regulate marijuana as closely as possible to the regulations we have on alcohol, tobacco, and other products.”
Bill HJR 30, the Smarter and Safer Missouri Act
Bill HJR 30, alternatively known as the Smarter and Safer Missouri Act would create a constitutional amendment to kickstart a commercial marijuana industry and taxing all cannabis sales at 12 percent.
No special licensing would be required “beyond that which is applicable for the cultivating, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, packaging, distributing, transferring, displaying, or possession of any nontoxic food or food product,” according to the language of the joint resolution.
The amendment would also apply to individuals cultivating cannabis for medical or personal use. However, at this time there is no information regarding the number of plants allowed per person or what restrictions would be applicable for personal cultivation.
In addition to the 12 percent tax on recreational cannabis, a 4 percent tax will be applied to the sale of medical marijuana. The extra revenue from the sales tax will be used to finance the Smarter and Safer Missouri Fund, a program designed to support drug treatment programs, infrastructure projects, and the Missouri Veterans Commission.
Before the legislation is put on a statewide ballot, it must first be approved by both the Senate and the House.
What about the Missouri medical marijuana program?
Under the proposed amendment, the existing Missouri medical marijuana card program would remain legal, although there appears to be some confusion in how it will be regulated or distinguished from recreational cannabis.
A section of the medical marijuana amendment states that the substance “shall be available to patients, who have a physician’s recommendation for its use” and that patients “shall be afforded the same rights and privileges afforded to any patient treated through conventional therapeutic means, regardless of whether the person is under the care of a physician.”
October of 2020 saw the inaugural sales of legal medical marijuana in Missouri. There are still many concerns around proper licensing as the medical cannabis program is still in its fledgling stage.
So far, in spite of 196 licenses being lawfully granted to Missouri dispensaries, only 20 storefronts have been approved for operation as of January 2021. Manufacturers are patiently waiting in the wings for the green light, and currently, only one company is allowed to legally produce cannabis-infused products in Missouri.
The present medical marijuana licensing system in Missouri is rife with political issues, and detractors have been vocal in regard to an allegedly unfair scoring process and licensing caps. Furthermore, the system has managed to delay forward movement, consistently profiled minority applicants, and ultimately resulted in prohibitive pricing for MMJ patients.
The same critics have also pointed to the countless millions of dollars in revenue squandered on legal fees that could potentially have funded veterans’ programs. However, certain regulators defend their position reiterating that despite the many legal obstacles and challenges, they consistently met constitutional deadlines.
Social justice aspects of Missouri marijuana legalization proposal
If the legalization measure garners enough support, one of the first requirements will be for courts across the state to expunge all civil and criminal records of “non-violent, marijuana-only offenses that are no longer illegal” within 60 days of the amendment’s passage. Moreover, individuals incarcerated for the same offenses will subsequently be released.
Surprisingly, racial and social inequities are not mentioned in the Republican proposal, despite the fact that Dogan is the only black party member in the legislature. Dogan is well aware of the extreme racial profiling and disparities when it comes to cannabis and law enforcement, and made his opinion known in an article published in 2020.
The proposal contains other provisions, such as denying Missouri police agencies funding for cannabis prohibition law enforcement efforts. The amendments would also include a ban on civil asset forfeiture for marijuana offenses in addition to protecting gun owners and their right to bear arms.
Dogan elaborated on the upcoming proposal saying:
“This initiative will increase personal freedom, allow law enforcement to focus on violent crime instead of nonviolent marijuana users, and provide revenue for infrastructure, broadband, and drug treatment, I am confident Missouri voters will support these common-sense ideas when they have the opportunity to vote on adult use.”
The bill would also be expanded to protect Missouri medical marijuana patients’ ability to consume the substance in rental lodgings.
Other marijuana legalization efforts in Missouri
Meanwhile, Missourians for a New Approach had plans to launch a citizen-initiated legalization measure and do a massive signature-gathering campaign prior to the November election. Unfortunately, those plans were sidelined due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it is anticipated that the advocacy group will qualify a competing measure to oppose Dogan’s plan.
Other legal cannabis-related bills include prohibiting the disclosure of Missouri medical marijuana patient information to unauthorized parties, as well as preventing discrimination by adoption agencies due to medical marijuana recommendations or against individuals who work in the cannabis industry.
As the pandemic rages on, so does the controversy surrounding medical and recreational marijuana in Missouri. With a Democratic Biden-Harris administration and a Democrats now running both the House and the Senate, and as more and more Missourians embrace cannabis culture, the coming years should herald some striking changes in the Missouri marijuana industry.