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Missouri Lawmaker’s New Bill Would Put Marijuana Legalization On 2022 Ballot

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Voters in Missouri could decide in 2022 whether to legalize marijuana under a plan prefiled this week in the state House of Representatives. The proposal would scrap the state’s existing medical cannabis law and replace it with a simpler system meant to serve both patients and adult consumers.

Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan introduced the joint resolution Tuesday, ahead of the new legislative session set to begin next week. Both the House and Senate would need to approve the legislation for the legalization question to go to voters.

“I believe in free markets,” Dogan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday, “and I want to regulate marijuana as closely as possible to the regulations we have on alcohol, tobacco and other products.”

The proposed constitutional amendment, HJR 30, or the Smarter and Safer Missouri Act, would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over and establish a commercial cannabis industry, taxing sales at 12 percent. Unlike legal marijuana programs in most other states, it would require no special licensing “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 language of the joint resolution.

Private marijuana cultivation for personal or medical use would also be allowed under the proposal, although the amendment provides no details on whether plant limits or other restrictions would apply.

Advocates attempted to qualify a citizen-initiated legalization measure for last November’s election, but the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the signature-gathering effort. They’re widely expected to attempt to qualify a 2022 measure that could compete with Dogan’s plan.

Revenue from Dogan’s proposed system would go to a new state fund that would be split among the Missouri Veterans Commission, state infrastructure projects and drug treatment programs.

Courts in the state would be required 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. Law enforcement would be directed to immediately release anyone incarcerated for such offenses.

There is no mention of social equity or minorities in the proposal, although Dogan, for years the only Black Republican in the state legislature, noted racial disparities in cannabis law enforcement in an opinion piece published last year. By contrast, some other states have directed revenue from legal cannabis to fund communities disproportionately affected by prohibition or designed licensing systems designed to give priority to people from those communities.

The Missouri proposal represents both an effort at criminal justice reform and a rejection of the state’s existing medical marijuana program, which voters approved in 2018. The opaque scoring process for awarding business licenses under the system has drawn lawsuits by applicants denied licenses and sparked controversy among lawmakers. Earlier this year, one Republican senator called the process “one of the biggest boondoggles I have seen in my business life.”

The first legal sales of medical marijuana began in October, and licensing is still in its early stages. As of state numbers released December 23, just 20 dispensaries have been approved to operate, despite the law allowing up to 196 dispensary licenses to be granted. As for manufacturers, only one company can currently produce cannabis-infused products legally in the state.

Critics have complained that the existing licensing caps and scoring process have unfairly limited competition, disadvantaged minority applicants, slowed the program’s rollout and led to higher prices for patients. They’ve also pointed out that millions of dollars in revenue from the fledgling program have gone to cover legal fees rather than programs for veterans, as the law intends. Regulators have countered that they’ve managed to meet constitutional deadlines despite numerous court challenges and procedural obstacles.

Dogan’s new plan would erase the language of the 2018 constitutional amendment in its entirety, including its licensing process and limits on the number of licenses available. In his comments to the Post-Dispatch, Dogan called the current system “too burdensome and too bureaucratic.”

“People might want to take the opportunity to have us take a leading role in this,” he said, “and to craft something that’s not going to be burdensome.”

Medical marijuana would remain legal under the proposed constitutional amendment, with little mention of how it would be regulated or distinguished from consumer products. A medical marijuana section in the amendment says the drug “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.”

Marijuana sold for medical use would be taxed at four percent, the same rate as currently applies.

Other provisions in the proposal would prevent Missouri police agencies or state money from assisting with federal marijuana prohibition enforcement efforts, attempt to protect gun owners’ right to bear arms and ban civil asset forfeiture for marijuana offenses.

“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,” Dogan told Greenway. “I am confident Missouri voters will support these commonsense ideas when they have the opportunity to vote on adult use.”

Dogan’s proposed constitutional amendment is one of a handful of cannabis-related bills prefiled ahead of the coming legislative session. Other bills include proposals to criminalize the disclosure of medical marijuana patient information to unauthorized parties (HB 198, HB 501), expunge certain low-level cannabis offenses (HB 408, HB 546, SB 190), prevent adoption agencies from discriminating against patients who have medical marijuana recommendations or work in the industry (HB 485) and expand the ability of patients to consume cannabis in rental housing and other lodging (HB 486).

Two other proposed House measures would legalize marijuana through statute rather than via Dogan’s constitutional amendment approach: HB 263, sponsored by Rep. Peter Merideth (D), and HB 325, by Rep. Wiley Price IV (D).

Similar proposals were introduced in 2020 (HB 1978) and 2019 (HB 551).

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives defeated an amendment that would have required lawmakers consume a “substantial” amount of marijuana before voting on any legislation. Its sponsor told Marijuana Moment the plan was meant in jest to “get everyone to chill out and get a little chuckle.”

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Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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