Time is running out to fight Missouri’s marijuana legalization efforts • Missouri Independent
While the end of the legislative session is only a few weeks away and the organizers of an initiative petitions campaign are sounding the alarm on an even more pressing deadline, Dueling efforts to legalize marijuana in Missouri face uncertain fates.
In the Legislature, GOP State Rep. Ron Hicks is sponsoring a bill to legalize the possession and use of marijuana for people 21 and older.
But while it received a committee hearing in early March, it took almost a month to get a vote – and when it did, a pair of amendments were added that the bill’s supporters called poison pills.
“Do we still have time? Yes,” Hicks said, noting that the legislature will adjourn at 6 p.m. on May 13. “I’ve seen bills navigate through the process in a week. It’s really a question of whether we have the will to tackle it.
Meanwhile, supporters of a proposal to put the issue of marijuana legalization on the state ballot this year are begging for help collecting enough signatures before the May 8 deadline.
In an industry newsletter, first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatchthe call went out to medical marijuana companies to donate money and personnel to the effort – with a reminder that the proposal would give them first dibs on lucrative new recreational marijuana licenses.
“We have already collected and processed over 170,000 signatures, but we still need to collect at least as many in the remaining weeks to ensure we have a cushion and certainty that we are on the ballot,” the bulletin said. .
Push for signatures
Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 creating the medical marijuana program.
State regulators began rolling out the new industry soon after, initially issuing 338 licenses to sell, grow and process marijuana — the minimum required in the constitutional amendment.
They argued that caps would help ensure that excess supply does not fuel a black market. And last week, the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association noted that Missouri has more than three times as many dispensaries as Illinois, which has twice the population of Missouri and medical and recreational programs.
But critics of the program say the caps have created a monopoly in the state and created the appearance of corruption. These concerns were further fueled by rumors of an FBI public corruption investigation and the revelations of problems with the scoring process set up to decide who received a license.
Last year, the medical marijuana industry began the process of pushing through another constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot to legalize recreational marijuana.
Like the 2018 measure, Legal Missouri 2022 would allow the state to continue licensing caps while ensuring that current medical marijuana licensees get the initial batch of recreational licenses.
To vote, the campaign must collect signatures from at least 8% of voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts. This year, that would mean 170,000 signatures, although successful campaigns historically generate a much higher total to compensate for invalidated signatures.
The industry newsletter said the campaign aims to secure 300,000 signatures by the May 8 deadline.
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One of the biggest hurdles the effort has faced has been a lack of people to collect signatures across the state. In the bulletin, medical marijuana companies were urged to dedicate full-time employees to signature-gathering duties to ensure the measure passes.
Asked last week about the lack of signature collectors, the campaign spokesperson declined to go into detail, saying only that “our singular goal remains to ensure that Missourians have the opportunity to make our state the 20th to allow the use, taxation and regulation of adult marijuana.
Meanwhile, Missouri’s medical marijuana industry is pumping money into the campaign.
Since early April, Legal Missouri 2022 has received over $1.4 million from industry sources.
The Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association says sales of medical marijuana topped $30 million in March, approaching $1 million a day for the first time.
“Free Market System”
Hicks presented his proposal as a free market alternative to the Legal Missouri 2022 effort.
Among a litany of provisions in the legislation, Hicks’ proposal initially did not limit the number of licenses the state would issue to grow and sell marijuana.
“Why would we cap business licensing on this industry when you don’t have any other industry?” said Hicks. “We don’t do it for the alcohol. 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 going to outdo me and eventually my doors will close. That’s how it’s supposed to work in America. It is the free market system.
But Hicks’ bill was adamantly opposed by the Missouri medical marijuana industryand the chairman of the House committee to which the bill was assigned added an amendment to limit the number of licenses to the number of current medical marijuana licenses.
Through negotiation, the amendment was changed to allow twice as many trade licenses as currently issued, but Hicks still doesn’t like it.
“I want this amendment removed from the bill,” Hicks said.
Another amendment was also added in committee that would exclude transgender women from accessing interest-free loans for female-owned and minority-owned cannabis businesses, although the amendment’s sponsor said he would. would remove if it could impact the bill’s chances of success.
But even if the transgender amendment is removed, supporters of Hicks’ bill say it has already slowed progress on the legislation.
“We take no position on transgender issues and view this agenda as designed to waste valuable time on the legislative calendar as the session winds down in mid-May,” said Tim Gilio, founder of the Missouri Marijuana Legalization Movement.
Some of his colleagues may get heartburn at the thought of legalizing marijuana use, Hicks said, but it will happen eventually — with or without lawmakers.
“We have to act first,” he said. “It’s time we started listening to people. We’ve ignored them long enough, and they’re just turning to the initiative petition process. We don’t like it, but all they do is point out that they can bypass us when we’re not listening. So it’s time we listened.