Missouri could be the first state where a Republican-controlled Legislature passes an adult-use cannabis legalization measure not initiated at the ballot, but the timeline is tight.
The House Rules Committee on Legislative Oversight voted, 6-4, to advance the Cannabis Freedom Act on April 19, clearing the legislation for floor consideration by the full lower chamber. The Missouri General Assembly’s 2022 session is scheduled to end May 13.
Sponsored by Republican Rep. Ron Hicks, the legislation, House Bill 2704, aims to legalize the possession and personal use of cannabis for adults 21 and older, allowing them to purchase commercial cannabis from a licensed retailer, and to cultivate and possess no more than six mature plants for noncommercial use, according to the bill summary. Personal possession limits are not defined in the current version of the 76-page bill.
Under current Missouri laws and penalties, possessing up to 10 grams of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by a max fine of $500 on the first offense, and up to a year of incarceration with a max fine of $2,000 on the second offense or for the possession of 10 grams to 35 grams. Possessing more than 35 grams is a felony punishable by up to seven years of incarceration and a $10,000 max fine.
The legislation also aims to release all non-violent cannabis offenders from prison and create a system for individuals to expunge cannabis-related offenses from their records.
Republican Rep. Phil Christofanelli, who chairs the House Rules Committee, said he had “grave concerns” about the current version of the bill during Tuesday’s hearing that culminated in the 6-4 committee vote to advance the legislation, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“I think there needs to be additional testing of the cannabis in the marketplace,” Christofanelli said. “I think there needs to be reasonable limits placed on possession and grow facilities.”
Hicks acknowledged those concerns and agreed that testing parameters need to be added to his bill, the news outlet reported.
Under the legislation, a “Cannabis Enforcement Authority” would be established within the Department of Health and Senior Services. That authority would be responsible for promulgating the necessary rules and regulations for the program, including the licensing process for cannabis cultivators, retailers, processors, transporters and wholesale distributors. The authority would also implement an inventory tracking system.
In addition, cultivators, manufacturers, processors and distributors would not be subject to special zoning requirements or licensing fees under the legislation.
And the tax rate levied on cannabis sales could not exceed 4.225%—lower than the 12% rate written in the original introduction of the bill. All tax revenue would be deposited into a “Cannabis Freedom Fund,” as established under the bill, and used to pay for costs associated with implementation, administration and enforcement of the act’s provisions.
Other notable provisions of the bill include:
- The use or possession of cannabis shall not impede a person’s legal right to possess a firearm.
- It shall be lawful for a person 21 years of age or older to transfer or gift cannabis to another adult or for a parent or guardian to transfer or gift cannabis to a person under 21 years of age if that person has a recommendation by a physician.
- No bank, trust company, association, or credit union shall be prohibited, penalized, have any adverse action taken against it, or otherwise discouraged from providing financial services to facilities licensed under the provisions of the bill.
According to the bill summary, those who oppose the legislation pointed to what they perceive as increased youth use and impaired driving in Colorado, which launched commercial adult-use sales in 2014, as well as an unlimited medical cannabis license structure in Oklahoma, where lawmakers are working to combat an illicit market.
Under Missouri’s Cannabis Freedom Act, the number of adult-use licenses would be limited to double the number of current medical cannabis licenses in the state, a provision that was added during the House Public Safety Committee’s clearance of the bill via a 5-4 vote on March 31.
Those who support the legislation pointed to the shortcomings of Missouri’s medical cannabis program that “is not something the Legislature can fix,” because it was passed through the initiative petition process.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the initiative petition process, but we have a medical marijuana industry in our state right now due to the initiative petition process,” Hicks said during a hearing before the Public Safety Committee last month.
“I’m sure every single one of you sitting here has received some type of an email or has heard from somebody in this state about the rollout of that program, whether it was dishonest or not fair to someone or it was rolled out wrong, or whatever the issue,” he said. “But the bottom line is, no matter what those issues are, we as body cannot fix them.”
On a similar timeline to the Legislature’s adjournment, there are three adult-use 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.
As of April 20, the Cannabis Freedom Act is not on the House calendar.