With less than two weeks until the Missouri Legislature adjourns, the lawmaker behind the push to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state says his legislation is “held up” in the House.
Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, told the Missouri Independent that his House Bill 2704 was supposed to come up for debate in the House May 2 but that House Majority Leader Dean Plocher said he will not allow the bill to advance without further discussion on business licensing caps in the adult-use market.
Hicks has advocated for unlimited licenses, according to the news outlet, arguing that the free market should determine how many businesses emerge in the industry and that the license caps in Missouri’s medical cannabis market have created a monopoly and possible corruption.
Plocher maintained that his insistence on license caps in the adult-use market is not the result of industry lobbying and that his position instead stems from a recent conversation with Lyndall Fraker, the director of medical cannabis regulation at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, according to the Missouri Independent.
The constitutional amendment that Missouri voters approved in the 2018 election to legalize medical cannabis mandated a minimum of 338 licenses for businesses to cultivate, process and sell cannabis to patients, the news outlet reported. That’s how many licenses regulators ultimately issued, arguing that the license caps would help ensure that oversupply did not fall into the hands of the illicit market.
Meanwhile, an investigation was launched in 2020 into the roll out of Missouri’s medical cannabis program amid allegations of irregularities and conflict of interest in the licensing process.
H.B. 2704, which passed its final committee and was cleared for consideration by the full House earlier this month, has faced many obstacles already, the Missouri Independent reported, including the Legislature’s pending adjournment, gridlock in the Senate and opposition from Missouri’s medical cannabis industry.
“I’m not sure if the majority leader even wants it on the floor,” Hicks told the news outlet. “This bill has been held up at every corner. It goes into committee, and it sits and it sits there and I see the lobbyists going in and out of the chairman’s office. It was held up in committee. It was held up in the Rules Committee. It’s being held up now.”
While Hicks’ original bill did not include license caps, Rep. Shane Roden, R-Cedar Hill, the chair of the House Public Safety Committee, added an amendment that would limit the number of adult-use cannabis business licenses to twice as many licenses that have been issued in the medical cannabis market, according to the Missouri Independent.
Roden acknowledged that he agrees with Hicks’ assessment that there should be no license caps, the news outlet reported, but said his amendment aimed to temper opposition from the state’s medical cannabis industry that threatened to kill the legislation.
Hicks has encouraged the bill’s supporters to make their voices heard in the final days of this year’s legislative session.
“I’m going to have the people step up,” he told the Missouri Independent. “If I have to have them camp outside the floor leader’s office, I’ll do so. You can pitch tents.”
Meanwhile, there are three adult-use cannabis ballot initiative campaigns in Missouri that have until May 8 to submit 160,199 valid signatures to pose a constitutional amendment to voters in the November 2022 election.