An investigation into the roll out of Missouri’s medical cannabis program has reached Gov. Mike Parson’s office, as a House committee seeks records involving Parson’s chief of staff, chief operating officer and a longtime adviser, according to an Associated Press report.
The Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight sent a letter to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) May 7, requesting records of the department’s interactions with cannabis industry stakeholders and insight into how key decisions were made in the medical cannabis licensing process, the news outlet reported.
The committee’s chairman, State Rep. Robert Ross, indicated in the letter that the records request is a result of “too many unanswered questions” after DHSS officials testified during earlier public hearings related to the investigation, according to the Associated Press.
Ross received a whistleblower complaint in March in the form of an unsigned letter from someone claiming to be a DHSS employee, the news outlet reported. The complaint accused the department of lying to legislators during the hearings and raises questions about the qualifications and salaries of those overseeing Missouri’s medical cannabis program.
The state’s Auditor’s Office has received two additional whistleblower complaints about DHSS operations and the medical cannabis program’s licensing process, the Associated Press reported.
These allegations of irregularities and conflict of interest in the licensing process triggered the ongoing investigation, which has been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation was resumed after DHSS Director Randall Williams announced that the state’s medical cannabis dispensaries are expected to open this summer, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Ben Baker has introduced an amendment to Missouri’s medical cannabis law that would remove the state’s cap on the number of medical cannabis licenses, which would eliminate the need for a scoring process to grant the licenses, according to The Joplin Globe.
Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that Missouri voters passed in 2018 to legalize medical cannabis, included language about a minimum number of licenses to be issued, and the DHSS then set its licensing cap at that minimum. Baker’s amendment would simply remove this limit and eliminate the controversial scoring process that led to the House committee’s investigation in the first place.
The amendment is part of Senate Bill 600, which focuses on public safety, and Senate Bill 580, which changes some health care provisions in the state, The Joplin Globe reported. The amendment's future is uncertain, as both bills are currently on hold, according to the news outlet, and Missouri’s legislative session ends May 15.