St. Louis Public Radio
by Jaclyn Driscoll
4 Jan 2021

Missouri Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, prefiled a measure to amend the state constitution to legalize recreational cannabis.

In addition to allowing adults 21 and older to use the drug, Dogan said, his proposal would be an important step toward criminal justice reform.

“It expunges the records of people who’ve been convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses and has anyone who’s incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offense be released from prison,” Dogan said.

Dogan said he is the first in the majority party to file a recreational cannabis bill. While the House has taken up proposals in past sessions, the Senate has been reluctant to do so. Dogan said he is confident his proposal will get the traction it needs to make it to the floors of both chambers for discussion.

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

While cannabis use is still illegal at the federal level, the legislation states that no Missouri law enforcement personnel or state funds be used to enforce those laws, as seen in other states that have legalized marijuana.

What is different about this bill, though, is the lack of state regulation when it comes to who can grow and sell the drug. Dogan said that was intentional.

“I don’t think we need a huge bureaucracy to pick winners and losers in terms of who gets licenses,” Dogan said.

The state’s medical marijuana program stipulated that at least 192 licenses be awarded to dispensaries across the state to sell the drug. While the constitutional amendment did not cap the number of facilities, the state did not award more than the minimum required. Dogan said this has created problems for the program and the state as a whole.

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

While businesses begin to come online, the rocky rollout of the medical marijuana program in Missouri continues to draw scrutiny. A federal lawsuit filed last month seeks to strike down a state requirement that medical marijuana licenses go to businesses owned by residents of the state.

Gov. Mike Parson’s administration is also at the center of legislative and law enforcement probes into the handling of licenses in the state and how key decisions, such as who received licenses, were made.

Dogan’s fix for this is to leave licensing up to local and county governments and keep the state out of it completely.

“What I’m trying to do is reduce the amount of regulation on the industry,” Dogan said. “By and large, if you want to get a license to grow or sell, you can do it.”

The proposal taxes the drug at 12%, mandates that it be properly tested and labeled, and would not allow adults to use cannabis in public places.