Two years ago, John Payne, manager for the New Approach Missouri medical marijuana campaign wrote in the Springfield News Leader that “Missouri’s medical marijuana law is one of the best”, praising the “smooth, well-thought-out implementation of Missouri’s program”. Late last year, Josh Mitchem of Clovr, who claimed to have spent “over $600,000” to pass New Approach’s proposal, blasted the free market/minimally regulated framework existing in Oklahoma, which is the site of America’s most dynamic and innovative cannabis market.
But these claims are demonstrably false. Over 85% of applicants for licensing in Missouri were denied, sparking allegations of pay-to-play access centering around lobbyist Steve Tilley and marijuana industry group MOCannTrade. Over 800 applicants appealed their license denials, costing the state millions of dollars in legal fees. And as of April 28, less than half of license winners were operational; worse, many operators who won licenses are unable to raise capital and get through commencement inspections because of the insane regulatory barriers baked into the system. Patients in the program face high prices, with wholesale prices north of $4000 a pound -- leading to situations where the same Keef Cola product sells in Colorado for $7 but in Missouri for $35.
Reform is needed -- badly. The most credible proposal has been floated by Missouri State Representative Shamed Dogan, a Republican from St. Louis, who would completely remove the existing medical marijuana regulatory framework from the Missouri Constitution, allowing anyone with a business license who can meet basic safety regulations to sell, process, and retail marijuana. Dogan’s proposal would also allow for adult-use sale (sometimes referred to as “recreational”). While this proposal did not receive a hearing this year, the Missouri House of Representatives expressed a clear and unequivocal position on the issue at the end of March, passing an amendment supporting the removal of license caps from the marijuana program by a vote of 118-29.
This is the 3rd time that the Missouri House has expressed that it is not willing to create unnecessary regulations or license caps in legal marijuana. In 2016, House lawmakers slammed a proposal that would license only a small number of operators, create high capital requirements, and lock out competition. In 2018, House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana proposal without any license caps or barriers to entry, only to see a Missouri State Senator kill the proposal at the end of the legislative session in favor of letting the New Approach proposal go to the November ballot.
Missouri should not let John Payne and his New Approach cronies back for another bite at the apple. By restricting entry to the market, New Approach took a big swing at farmers, ordinary entrepreneurs, and investors eager to invest in Missouri in favor of a small group of connected insiders who have been scheming to control Missouri’s marijuana industry for a decade. Only the Missouri General Assembly can reform this system transparently and let all stakeholders have their voice heard.
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