A Republican Missouri lawmaker has introduced a revised marijuana legalization bill with the hopes that the filing will spur the governor to expand a special session to allow consideration of the emergency reform legislation as an alternative to a cannabis initiative that will appear on the state’s November ballot.
Rep. Ron Hicks (R) introduced the “Marijuana Freedom Act” on Wednesday, just one day after the Missouri Supreme Court gave a final ruling on a legal challenge to the activist-led initiative that secured its placement on the ballot.
The bill has been slightly revised since it was introduced and advanced through committee during the regular session earlier this year. One key change is that there’s now an emergency clause that references the ballot initiative, making it so the legislation would take effect immediately upon passage.
Gov. Mike Parson (R) recently said that he would not add marijuana legalization to the agenda for the special session convening this week, which currently focuses on tax relief and agriculture issues. However, Hicks said in a press release on Wednesday that “it is my hope that legislative action on my Marijuana Freedom Act will incentivize the governor to support passage of this legislation.”
“The governor, along with tens of thousands of Missourians, have expressed that the Amendment 3 campaign is a disaster,” he said, referring to the ballot initiative. “Missourians don’t want their Constitution used to sustain monopolies in the marijuana market, and they don’t want criminal or civil penalties in the Constitution. Passing the Marijuana Freedom Act will ensure that this corrupt initiative is rejected by the voters.”
Here’s what Hick’s revised Marijuana Freedom Act would accomplish:
Possession, home cultivation and licensing
The bill, which was formerly titled the “Cannabis Freedom Act” during the regular session, would remove marijuana from the state’s controlled substances list and allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess cannabis from licensed retailers. There is no personal possession limit.
Adults could also grow up to 12 plants for personal use. Uniquely, adults could “contract” with a licensed grower to cultivate up to 12 plants on their behalf for personal use and also work with licensed processors to produce marijuana products.
The bill has been revised to clarify that personal growers are not “subject to any testing or seed-to-sale tracking requirement” that applies to commercially cultivated cannabis.
The state Department of Health and Senior Services (HSS) would be responsible for regulating the adult-use program and issuing marijuana business licenses, just as it currently does for medical cannabis.
The department would be required to develop rules to issue temporary and annual licenses for cannabis retailers, growers, processors, transporters and wholesale distributors.
Social equity and consumer protections
The measure contains expungement provisions, allowing people with non-violent marijuana convictions over activities made legal under the bill to petition the courts for record clearing. Those currently incarcerated would also be eligible for resentencing, and those on probation or parole would be allowed to use marijuana.
Police would not be allowed to use the odor of marijuana alone to conduct a warrantless search of a person’s private property under the legislation. And cannabis could not be used as a factor in family court proceedings.
The bill further stipulates that medical cannabis patient information cannot be shared with federal authorities.
Regulators “shall establish a loan program in which women-owned and minority-owned business enterprises may apply for a small business loan,” the bill text says. The loans, which are a new addition to the revised bill, would be funded by 10 percent of revenue from marijuana business license fees, and would carry no interest for two years.
The revised proposal would also create a new chief information officer role who would work to provide public education and technical assistance on the licensing process.
Cannabinoid labeling requirements that were included in the earlier version of the bill have been removed.
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Taxation, banking and social use
Cannabis purchases would be subject to a six percent tax, which is down from 12 percent in the last version of the bill as introduced but up from the 4.225 percent tax rate that the earlier measure was amended to in a committee vote. The Department of Revenue would handle tax collection and revenue.
Tax dollars that the state generates from the recreational market would be deposited into a “Marijuana Freedom Fund,” with revenue first covering the administrative costs of implementing the cannabis program. Remaining revenue would be “divided equally between teachers’ salaries, first responders’ pensions, and the Missouri veterans commission.”
Licensed marijuana businesses would also be able to make tax deductions with the state up to the amount that they’d otherwise be eligible for under federal law if they were operating in a federally legal industry. Cannabis companies across the country are required to pay federal taxes, but they’re barred from receiving tax benefits under a provision known as 280E.
People who apply for a Missouri cannabis business licenses and pay the application fee could also deduct that cost if they’re ultimately denied licensing.
Hicks’s bill also adopts a provision from a separate cannabis bill that would allow for “hospitality permits” so that hotels, bars and restaurants could “sell and serve marijuana or marijuana products in private events or venues.”
The previous version of the legislation moved through the committee process during the regular session and was heading to the floor, but House leadership ultimately killed the measure amid disagreements about licensing caps, which the sponsor opposes. The FBI has reportedly been interviewing some lawmakers about lobbying efforts that allegedly worked to kill the bill.
It’s not yet clear how leadership will approach the revised measure during this special session, especially given the governor’s stated opposition to adding it to the agenda.
Bill Vs. Ballot
While both the legislation and ballot measure would end prohibition and create a system of regulated sales, activists have been divided over the best approach for Missouri. But if the bill is taken up and enacted, it may give voters pause about the need to separately approve legalization at the ballot.
Hick’s bill now includes an emergency clause that says “immediate action is necessary to legalize marijuana in a clear and concise manner prior to the November 2022 election.” Accordingly, it “is deemed necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health, welfare, peace, and safety, and is hereby declared to be an emergency act within the meaning of the constitution, and section A of this act shall be in full force and effect upon its passage and approval.”
The constitutional amendment on the ballot is being championed by activists with Legal Missouri 2022.
A lawsuit filed last month sought to keep the reform proposal off the ballot after it was certified by the secretary of state. But after two lower courts dismissed the challenge, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered the final word that the legal battle is over.
“We are now one step away from passing Amendment 3, which will bring millions in new revenue to Missouri, while allowing law enforcement to concentrate on fighting violent and serious crime,” Legal Missouri 2022 Campaign Manager John Payne said in a press release following the ruling.
Here’s what the Legal Missouri 2022 initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis.
They could also grow up to six flowering marijuana plants, six immature plants and six clones if they obtain a registration card.
The initiative would impose a six percent tax on recreational cannabis sales and use revenue to facilitate automatic expungements for people with certain non-violent marijuana offenses on their records.
Remaining revenue would go toward veterans’ healthcare, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.
The Department of Health and Senior Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing licenses for cannabis businesses.
Regulators would be required to issue at least 144 microbusiness licenses through a lottery system, with priority given to low-income applicants and people who have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would also be first in line to start serving adult consumers with dual licenses.
Regulators could create rules around advertising, but they could not be any more stringent than existing restrictions on alcohol marketing.
Public consumption, driving under the influence of cannabis and underage marijuana use would be explicitly prohibited.
A seed-to-sale tracking system would be established for the marijuana market.
Local jurisdictions would be able to opt out of permitting cannabis microbusinesses or retailers from operating in their area if voters approve the ban at the ballot.
The measure would further codify employment protections for medical cannabis patients.
Medical marijuana cards would be valid for three years at a time, instead of one. And caregivers would be able to serve double the number of patients.
A poll released this week raised questioned about whether the initiative will succeed this November, with a plurality of voters saying they oppose the proposed constitutional amendment.
But the campaign pointed out the the same firm behind the survey previously missed the mark when it found just slim support for a 2018 medical cannabis ballot measure that ultimately passed overwhelmingly. Payne also led that successful medical marijuana legalization campaign.
Not all pro-reform advocates are on board with the adult-use ballot proposal. For example, a key Missouri Democratic lawmaker who chairs the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove (D), recently called on voters to reject the legalization initiative.
Meanwhile, state health officials are already taking steps to prepare for voter approval of the legalization measure.
A different campaign, Fair Access Missouri, separately explored multiple citizen initiatives this year with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot, but did not end up submitting signatures for any of the measures.
Read the text of the Marijuana Freedom Act below:
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.