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Activists Urge Missouri Lawmakers to Pre-Empt Cannabis Ballot Campaign

Missouri supporters of a Republican-backed law to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri met at Jefferson City’s state Capitol on Tuesday to block momentum for a ballot initiative to also end prohibition. They prefer that things were done through legislation. 

Ron Hicks (Republican from the GOP’s state House) introduced the Cannabis Freedom Act last month.

The bill would allow adults 21 years and over to legally use marijuana. It also establishes a state-regulated market for cannabis. The bill would exonerate certain cannabis offenders from previous convictions. 

“The Cannabis Freedom Act is the product of input from many different stakeholders including members of law enforcement and those who have endured incarceration for conduct that society now deems acceptable,” Hicks said in an interview after introducing the bill. “I am particularly grateful for input from Oklahoma State Representative Scott Fetgatter for his assistance in creating a free market program that is also strictly regulated.”

On Tuesday in Jefferson City, supporters of Hicks’ proposal like Christina Thompson, a cannabis reform activist in the state, pitted the bill against a campaign called Legal Missouri, which aims to get an initiative on the state ballot this year to legalize recreational pot. To qualify for this year’s ballot, the group needs to collect approximately 170,000 valid signatures. 

The following was reported by St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the initiative would “give current medical marijuana businesses the first shot at full recreational sales and keep in place the state’s ability to limit licenses.”

“This initiative (Legal Missouri 2022) eliminates nearly all competition through constitutionally protected license caps,” said Thompson, as quoted by the Post-Dispatch. “Recreational licenses created under the initiative will go straight to established businesses as well, meaning instead of opening up more business opportunities for others; money only goes to those who are already profiting.”

“The lack of competition and artificially inflated prices fuel the black market,” she added regarding the initiative. “Millions in lost revenue for our state is instead funding drug cartels, human trafficking and more while desperate patients are victimized.”

The newspaper said that Hicks’ bill “doesn’t limit marijuana business licenses,” and would both “allow home cultivators to possess up to 12 flowering plants and would permit dispensary sales to be taxed at up to 12 percent” and eliminate “civil asset forfeiture for marijuana and places regulation of the adult-use program under the control of the ‘Cannabis Enforcement Authority,’ which would be housed in the Department of Agriculture.”

The Legal Missouri Campaign has countered the critics by saying “that while current medical marijuana licensees would be able to convert their medical licenses into comprehensive ones, so-called microlicenses would be available to historically disadvantaged groups in the recreational program’s first days,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

“All new licenses for the first 548 days will be microlicenses reserved for smaller operators and individuals and groups who have been adversely affected by our current, unjust laws prohibiting marijuana,” said Legal Missouri campaign manager John Payne. “As in most states, medical marijuana facilities will also start to convert their licenses to comprehensive licenses.”

Missouri voters passed a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis in 2018, and the state’s first dispensaries opened in the fall of 2020.
The state announced that it now has more than 140 cannabis dispensaries, employing approximately 5,000 people, last September. This was less than one year since the program’s launch. In July 2013, the state stated that the sales of medical cannabis had already surpassed $91 million.