Marijuana cabinet

It was 2018 when Missourians approved medical marijuana by a 66% majority. Now, two competing groups believe Missourians are ready to support legalization of recreational marijuana, but they have two competing – and significantly different – visions of how to make it work.

If you support legalization of recreational marijuana in Missouri, you should take time to understand the difference between the two competing plans: the Legal Missouri 2022 Plan and the Cannabis Freedom Act.

While it’s easy to say it doesn’t matter and they both legalize marijuana, that’s an over simplification. If you compare the two plans, you’ll definitely see they’re not equal. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. It’s more like comparing apples to oranges, and you may not like either.

LEGAL MISSOURI 2022

Like the 2018 campaign to approve medical marijuana, Legal Missouri 2022 (Legal MO) is a ballot initiative. New Approach Missouri, the organization behind the successful medical marijuana initiative, is the also the group behind Legal MO.

In compliance with state regulations for ballot initiatives, they are required to get the signatures of 170,000 registered voters from at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts. In order to get the issue on the November ballot, they must have the required number of signatures turned in and verified by May 3.

If passed, Legal MO would allow anyone 21 years and older to possess, purchase, consume and cultivate marijuana, with up to 12 flowering marijuana plants allowed at at a private residence. The plan also limits the amount of marijuana an individual can purchase in a single transaction to three ounces.

BUILDS ON FLAWED ORIGINAL LICENSING PROCESS

Members of the community who oppose Legal MO say the plan falls short for a number of reasons. They see one of the plan’s biggest failings, as its limited options for minority and small businesses to participate economically in what is projected to become a multi-billion-dollar industry in Missouri.

They say Legal MO compounds the shortcomings of the state’s initial marijuana licensing program by offering companies with existing medical marijuana licenses first “dibs” on recreational licenses.

On paper, the state’s plan for issuing its initial medical marijuana licenses appeared to offer minority businesses a small advantage, but in the end, despite numerous quality and well-funded minority-lead teams submitting applications for licenses, across the entire state, only two African-American led corporations won initial licenses: one for distribution and one vendor who has a transportation license. Both are in St. Louis.

More than 2,000 applications were submitted for the state’s capped 192 dispensary licenses, 86 licenses to manufacture infused products, and 60 commercial grow licenses – and applying was expensive. With the nonrefundable application fee ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 per license. plus the additional capital required to prepare a competitive application, and even more capital required to get a business up and running, a number of local businesses passed on applying.

Since the initial licenses were authorized, hundreds of rejected applicants have filed appeals, many of which are still active.

Drew McDowell, co-owner of the Funky Skunk KC smoke shop, said when medical marijuana was first legalized, he was excited about the possibility of becoming a licensed dispensary, but things didn’t go as planned.

After reading through the medical marijuana licensing application and noticing that there was a license cap, he decided not to apply and to use his available capital to further invest in his smoke shop.

“Things like the good old boy network, and a lot of backdoor deals have really robbed the state of the opportunity to have true, homegrown companies being able to thrive and provide products to people in their community,” McDowell said. “This (medical marijuana) program is a monopoly. The hope is that with the recreational program, we get some opportunities for minorities, veterans and women to be able to have their fair share,” McDowell said.

LEGAL MO MINORITY PLAN

Under Legal MO, licenses originally issued for medical marijuana would be expanded to include recreational sales, which opponents say formalizes the existing licensees’ monopoly on the market, inflates marijuana market prices and leaves out Black businesses.

Legal MO proposes issuing 144 micro licenses, which may either be for a microbusiness dispensary facility or a microbusiness wholesale facility. A microbusiness wholesale facility would be allowed to cultivate, process, manufacture, transport and sell marijuana. A microbusiness dispensary will be able to acquire marijuana from any other microbusiness facility and process, package, deliver and sell.

However, these micro licenses would not be issued until after the first 18 months of recreation legalization.

Legal MO supporters say the industry’s racial inequities would be addressed through these micro licenses, that are being set aside for applicants who reside in a zip code with high marijuana incarceration rates, have been convicted of a nonviolent marijuana offense or have a net-worth of less than $250,000.

Supporters say those requirements and the caps on licenses are important for achieving equity.

But Rep. Ron Hicks (R-102,) sponsor of the Cannabis Freedom Act, said this path could have a particularly harmful impact on minority business owners.

“How many licenses is that that we give away, right off the bat?” Hicks told the House Public Safety Committee in early March. “And if we put a cap on it, then what’s left? How do the minority individuals in this state open their business in this industry?”

But Legal MO supporters say unlimited licenses would cause the illegal drug market to expand. John Pennington, founder and CEO of St. Louis-based Proper Cannabis, who opposes the Cannabis Freedom Act and testified against it in early March, pointed to Oklahoma where law enforcement officials say the low barriers for entry and the loose regulatory environment has led to an over supply of marijuana, driven down prices, pushed many smaller stores out of the market and increased the number of illegal operators who sell across state lines.

Adolphus Pruitt, president of the NAACP chapter in St. Louis city supports Legal MO.

“Those micro licenses are what’s going to be Black folks’ entry into the marketplace, because they don’t have the capital,” Pruitt told the Missouri Independent.

One of the largest struggles for smaller medical marijuana companies is obtaining capital. Since marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, bank loans are not an option.

Under Legal MO, micro-licensed growers have a 250-plant cap, an amount Rep. Ashley Bland-Manlove (D-26), a co-sponsor of the Cannabis Freedom Act, said it is not enough for a grower to turn a profit.

“Therefore, that micro business will stay a micro business and never become a full business,” Bland-Manlove said.

Back at the smoke shop, McDowell said, “I just urge people to do your due diligence, don’t just sign on the dotted line because you’re excited about recreational cannabis. If we naively sign things, we’ll get programs on the ballot that we don’t necessarily want. Then, we’ll be forced to have to vote for something or vote for nothing. So, we want to at least have opportunities.”

CANNABIS FREEDOM ACT

Unlike Legal MO, the Cannabis Freedom Act is not a ballot initiative, but a bill that makes recreational marijuana use legal in Missouri. It’s something the legislature can do without bringing the issue before the citizens for a vote. All that’s required is the passage of the Cannabis Freedom Act, House Bill 2704, by the Missouri House and Senate and an approval by Gov. Mike Parson.

The Cannabis Freedom Act was introduced by Rep. Hicks. Co-sponsors of the bill include Bland-Manlove and 19 other co-sponsors, including Rep. Michael Johnson (D-23) and Rasheen Aldridge (D-78).

In the Act, there is no possession limit, and adults could cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. Adults could also work with licensed processors to produce marijuana products, including edibles, from their plants.

Conversely, Legal MO caps personal possession at three ounces, which Bland-Manlove says could cause issues.

“Anybody who is familiar with the marijuana industry knows that three ounces is a very common amount to have in your possession,” she said. “The racial discrimination that we see in our police department is going to continue, which we always know works out worse for those who have been disinvested in or those who are melanated.”

The bill also allows those with nonviolent marijuana convictions to petition the courts to clear their record. Individuals on probation or parole would be allowed to use marijuana and those currently incarcerated on some marijuana-related crimes would be eligible to be re-sentenced.

The bill sets a tax rate for adult-use marijuana sales that would not exceed 12%, but does not tax sales on medical cannabis.

The bill also allows hospitality permits, so that hotels and restaurants can sell and serve marijuana products.

As originally proposed, the bill did not limit the number of medical marijuana licenses for dispensaries, growers or manufacturing. However, last week, the House Public Safety Committee passed the bill with a number of amendments, including the addition of licensing caps, something Hicks was against. The amendment would allow no more than double the number of current medical cannabis licenses.

Advocates are still hoping to push back against the amendments, when the legislation advances to the floor, which could happen next month.

Hicks told Marijuana Moment that he’s working with the Black Caucus to make sure startups can access loan and grant programs to ensure an equal playing field for African-Americans to benefit economically from this growing industry.

Bland-Manlove encourages Missourians not to sign the Legal MO petition, not because she doesn’t support ballot initiatives, but because if it’s approved, Legal MO changes the state’s Constitution, something legislators cannot change.

“This initiative petition is a constitutional initiative petition similar to the medical constitution, which means the legislator has no room to correct any issues that the public brings forward to us. Once it’s in the Constitution, it is solidified and cannot be changed,” she said. “I can’t fix it. And that’s my job is to fix laws or create laws to benefit our community.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.