Legislation filed by Missouri Republican would lift dispensary license cap, legalize adult-use weed

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(Pictured) GOP state Rep. Shamed Dogan

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

An adult-use cannabis legalization measure that would amend the Missouri state constitution has been pre-filed by Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin. 

Not only would the measure enable adults aged 21 and above to consume cannabis legally but also, Rep. Dogan says that the constitutional amendment would pave the way for criminal justice reform.

“It expunges the records of people who’ve been convicted of nonviolent [cannabis] offenses and has anyone who’s incarcerated for nonviolent [cannabis] offense be released from prison,” said Dogan, who admitted that he is the first majority party member to file an adult-use cannabis bill. 

Despite the fact that the House has made efforts to address similar proposals in previous sessions, the Senate has been avoiding the opportunity to deal with cannabis reform. Nonetheless, Dogan remains optimistic that his proposal will gain the necessary level of support to ignite debate on the floors of both chambers.

“Ten percent of the total arrests in the state of Missouri in 2018 were for [cannabis] possession,” Dogan said. “Just by tackling that, that’s going to address a lot of those racial disparities.”

Grow and sell opportunities for cannabis in Missouri could save taxpayer funding for lawsuits 

The rollout of Missouri’s medical cannabis market – which was legalized in 2018 – has been an anti-climax, to say the least. So much so, that a legislative probe expanded into Governor Mike Parson’s office in May of last year. As part of the probe, the Department of Health and Senior Services requested that the Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight disclose records of interactions relating to key decisions for the program.

A lack of satisfaction with Missouri’s medical cannabis program continues to linger, says Dogan, who touched upon the fact that licenses are reserved for state resident-owned businesses. The state requirement that specifies this rule was previously targeted in a lawsuit — the suit aimed to repeal the rule and broaden license-owning opportunities for non-residents.

“I don’t think we need a huge bureaucracy to pick winners and losers in terms of who gets licenses,” Dogan said. What stands out about his proposed bill to amend the Missouri state constitution is the reduced level of regulation it would impose for cannabis cultivation and sale.

He emphasized difficulties that the 192 license-limit has caused for the state and its medical cannabis program; although Missouri’s constitutional amendment didn’t impose a cap on the number of allowed facilities, no more than 192 licenses were dished out.

“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. A lot of time and energy, including taxpayer money, is being spent on these lawsuits,” Dogan added.

Leave Missouri’s cannabis licensing process up to local and county governments, says Dogan

Following the mid-2020 announcement that Gov. Mike Parson’s administration would be undergoing legislative and law enforcement probes into state cannabis license-handling, Dogan began searching for a solution. According to the GOP Rep, recreational cannabis business licensing in Missouri should be left up to the local and county governments.  

“What I’m trying to do is reduce the amount of regulation on the industry,” said Dogan, who wants the state to sit on the sidelines in regards to Missouri’s cannabis licensing process. “By and large, if you want to get a license to grow or sell, you can do it.”

Adult-use cannabis in Missouri is still illegal. Dogan’s proposal, if approved, would tax the drug at 12 percent. Additionally, the legal framework contained in his proposed constitutional amendment demands that cannabis in Missouri be properly labeled and tested before it is sold in a state-licensed store. Public consumption would not be allowed.