MO St. Rep. Shamed Dogan Wants to Legalize Marijuana. Here's What You Need to Know
On December 29, 2020, Missouri State Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) filed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 30 to legalize marijuana. If passed by both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly, HJR 30 would go to the voters as a legislative-initiated Constitutional Amendment.
Here's What HJR 30 Does
HJR 30 would:
completely erase the current text of Amendment XIV of Missouri Constitution, which was created by ballot initiative Amendment 2 in 2018.
continue to allow medical marijuana recommendations from physicians and veterinarians, and would remove state fees and other regulations associated with the current system, including the current 1-year requirement for renewing a medical marijuana certification.
require testing, labeling, and consumer protection regulation
removes penalties for marijuana possession and use; there is no limit on what an individual may possess or grow
eliminate the controversial licensing provisions associated with Missouri's current medical marijuana program and allow any business license holder in the state to grow, process, and sell marijuana and additionally prohibit discriminatory zoning practices
remove marijuana from Missouri's Controlled Substances Act, release all marijuana only offenders from prison, expunge all marijuana related nonviolent offenses, and prohibit state law enforcement from assisting federal law enforcement in marijuana investigations
tax medical marijuana at 4% and recreational marijuana at 12%, sending funds to Missouri veterans, infrastructure projects, and drug treatment programs
Meet Shamed Dogan
Rep. Dogan is currently serving his fourth and final term in the Missouri House of Representatives. In 2020, Rep. Dogan served as the chairman of the Special Committee on Criminal Justice (and is expected to continue in that role); over the course of his tenure in the Missouri House, Rep. Dogan has garnered significant bipartisan respect for leading on criminal justice reform from a pro-Constitution, pro-accountability, and pro-law enforcement standpoint.
Rep. Dogan has also been a leader on marijuana reform, beginning with his fight to free marijuana prisoner Jeff Mizanskey, who was serving life for the third of a series of non-violent marijuana felonies. In Dogan's first year in the Missouri House (2015) he forced Democrat Governor Jay Nixon to commute Mizanskey's sentence, saying "I think people are moving away from thinking we should just lock you up and throw away the key for a non-violent pot offense. The guy has already served 21 years, which is more than rapists and murderers and people selling much more dangerous drugs.”
The next year, Rep. Dogan again took a principled stand during a House floor debate on medical marijuana proposal HB 2213 on April 19, 2016, challenging a very restrictive licensing licensing framework. During this debate, Rep Dogan introduced an amendment to remove the capital requirement for licensing, stating: “It takes out the requirement that a grower have $500,000 in assets. I view that as being a small business provision where unnecessarily in my view restricting this from people who do not have a tremendous amount of means…they should be allowed regardless of what their net worth is.” Rep. Dogan’s words were echoed by Rep. Kevin Engler (R-St. Francois), who stated: “To put up a barrier of $500,000, that doesn’t make any sense. Open trade, free trade, free capital, society doesn’t say you’ve gotta have this much to do something…”
At one point in the debate, Rep. Nick King (R-Liberty), a well known advocate of marijuana prohibition, challenged Rep. Dogan, leading to this interchange:
Dogan: “I’m for less regulation. I’m for letting people have opportunities to get into business. Are you not for more people having more opportunities to get into business?”
King: “Not in this business.”
In the 2017-2018 legislative cycle, Rep. Dogan cosponsored medical marijuana legislation proposed by Rep. Dr. Jim Neely (R-Cameron), which passed the Missouri House on a 112-44 vote in April 2018. Rep. Dr. Neely's proposal did not have a cap on licenses or any artificial barriers to entry, and was killed by Missouri State Senator Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City), an advocate for the restrictive licensing framework proposed by New Approach Missouri which ultimately was approved by voters and became Missouri Constitution Amendment XIV.
Following the implementation of Amendment XIV, a significant public controversy emerged over the allocation of licenses when over 1800 of the roughly 2200 marijuana license applications were denied by the Missouri Department of Health & Human Services (DHSS). Numerous applicants cited irregularities, conflicts of interest, arbitrary scoring, and potential corruption in the process, leading to 850+ appeals being lodged with the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (for an exhaustive history of marijuana reform in Missouri, see this report from the nonprofit Cannabis Consumers Coalition). In one lawsuit, medical marijuana program director Lyndall Fraker disclosed that DHSS had even been served with a federal subpoena for information on a small group of applicants in an apparent corruption investigation.
The licensing controversy led to a series of hearings by the Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight, and bipartisan skepticism and outrage at the restrictions on licensing and opportunity.
Rep. Dogan's leadership on marijuana legalization deserves to be considered in light of his history as a principled, liberty-first advocate for ending the harms of criminalizing our citizens for the offense of marijuana possession and use. For those who have been denied opportunity by the unfair licensing caps and restrictions that now plague the Missouri Constitution, Rep. Dogan stands out as a firm and consistent advocate for economic liberty and equal opportunity.
This is What Leadership Looks Like
In the short time since Rep. Dogan filed HJR 30, he has given several interviews to the media.
"I think the war on drugs has been a failure — and the most glaring failure of it has been the fight against marijuana.We’ve spent billions of dollars fighting against a drug which is, in the grand scheme of things, the least harmful on the list of what is currently illegal. We spend the most resources and time on it, and it’s time that ends. The public has come to that conclusion, but our laws have been pretty slow in catching up with that.”
Though Dogan, in his proposal, leaves in place a medical marijuana program, he seeks to completely scrap the text of the 2018 constitutional amendment authorizing the program, leaving no mention of the business applicant scoring process and license caps that have generated controversy.
The licensing process drew complaints that the state had unfairly limited competition in the fledgling marijuana marketplace, leading to higher prices, a slower rollout and limited minority participation in the program.
Dogan’s plan outlines a licensing process no more stringent than licensing for other businesses.
He said support for marijuana legalization has grown in the GOP-dominated Legislature, with “increasing recognition” that “voters increasingly support ending marijuana prohibition.” Dogan said the Legislature should put its own question on the 2022 ballot, ensuring lawmakers have some say in any eventual program.
He said there’s “pretty wide recognition” that an adult-use marijuana question will appear on the ballot no matter what lawmakers do, hinting that the same forces that pushed the 2018 question will back similar language in 2022. “People might want to take the opportunity to have us take a leading role in this and to craft something that’s not going to be burdensome,” Dogan said. He said the current system is “too burdensome and too bureaucratic” and “favors certain people in the market over others who want to get into the market.”
“I believe in free markets and I want to regulate marijuana as closely as possible to the regulations we have on alcohol, tobacco and other products,” Dogan said.
“We spend more time and more law enforcement resources going after marijuana smokers than all the other drugs combined,” Dogan said. “Ten percent of the arrest in the state of Missouri right now are from marijuana possession.”
Sixteen states have already legalized marijuana, but Dogan said it’s time for Missouri to craft its own regulations and restrictions that make sense for Missouri.
“I think alcohol prohibition taught us that trying to prohibit something this way, the way we’ve gone about marijuana prohibition, it backfires,” Dogan said.
The proposed amendment would allow Missourians 21 and older to use cannabis. The amendment would remove marijuana from the state’s list of controlled substances.
“And it automatically lets out of prison anybody that is still serving a prison term for marijuana-only offenses and then expunges from your record if you have a non-violent marijuana offense,” Dogan said. “If you are currently incarcerated [more than] a marijuana offense, so if you have a marijuana offense but you also committed a robbery, you don’t get out.”
Dogan said there is no restriction in his amendment on the amount someone can legally possess.
“I mean, you can buy any amount of alcohol you want, right?” Dogan said. “You can buy any amount of tobacco that you want, so I think it should be regulated the same ways.”
“It would put a 4 percent tax on medical, which we already have, and then a 12 percent on recreational, which would be one of the lowest in the country,” Dogan said.
Unlike the medical marijuana program, Dogan said his legislation will not cap the number of licenses issued statewide.
“If you could put together a business plan, if you could get approval from your city or county board in terms of zoning, in terms of whatever restrictions they want to put on not having these places too close to schools, but beyond the city and county ordinances about locational and number per city and per county, there wouldn’t be any state regulation of that,” Dogan said.
“I think especially with an issue as important as this, it’s something that we do want to hear from the people of Missouri on to make sure we’re doing this the right way and to make sure that we have their support,” Dogan said.
Dogan said, although there’s nothing in this amendment that directly addresses the racial disparities in arrests, he hopes it will help.
“I think that if we’re not arresting anybody for marijuana possession, then I think we will see a lot of people have unnecessary encounters with police go down,” Dogan said.
In addition to allowing adults 21 and older to use the drug, Dogan said, his proposal would be an important step toward criminal justice reform.
“It expunges the records of people who’ve been convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses and has anyone who's incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offense be released from prison,” Dogan said.
Dogan said he is the first in the majority party to file a recreational cannabis bill. While the House has taken up proposals in past sessions, the Senate has been reluctant to do so. Dogan said he is confident his proposal will get the traction it needs to make it to the floors of both chambers for discussion.
“Ten percent of the total arrests in the state of Missouri in 2018 were for marijuana possession,” Dogan said. “Just by tackling that, that’s going to address a lot of those racial disparities.”
While cannabis use is still illegal at the federal level, the legislation states that no Missouri law enforcement personnel or state funds be used to enforce those laws, as seen in other states that have legalized marijuana.
What is different about this bill, though, is the lack of state regulation when it comes to who can grow and sell the drug. Dogan said that was intentional.
“I don’t think we need a huge bureaucracy to pick winners and losers in terms of who gets licenses,” Dogan said.
The state’s medical marijuana program stipulated that at least 192 licenses be awarded to dispensaries across the state to sell the drug. While the constitutional amendment did not cap the number of facilities, the state did not award more than the minimum required. Dogan said this has created problems for the program and the state as a whole.
“One of the issues with the medical amendment that we passed was that the authority to regulate was given to the state, and there’s a lot of controversy around that now,” Dogan said. “A lot of time and energy, including taxpayer money, is being spent on these lawsuits.”
While businesses begin to come online, the rocky rollout of the medical marijuana program in Missouri continues to draw scrutiny. A federal lawsuit filed last month seeks to strike down a state requirement that medical marijuana licenses go to businesses owned by residents of the state.
Gov. Mike Parson’s administration is also at the center of legislative and law enforcement probes into the handling of licenses in the state and how key decisions, such as who received licenses, were made.
Dogan’s fix for this is to leave licensing up to local and county governments and keep the state out of it completely.
“What I’m trying to do is reduce the amount of regulation on the industry,” Dogan said. “By and large, if you want to get a license to grow or sell, you can do it.”
Crossing Paths Political Action Committee Executive Director Bharani Kumar said:
"As a principled advocate for human liberty and a true servant of the people of Missouri, we wholeheartedly endorse Representative Dogan's efforts and will work tirelessly to ensure that all Missourians are represented in the process of ending the prohibition of marijuana. Time and time again Representative Dogan has proven his dedication and selfless interest for this great cause of human liberty and stands as an example for his fellow lawmakers and every citizen in our great state."
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