House Bill 2704, the Cannabis Freedom Act, has made the first significant step on its journey to legalization. On Thursday, the bill, proposed by Representative Ron Hicks, R-St. Peters, was voted out of committee.
The version of HB2704 that left The Public Safety Committee on Thursday underwent some significant changes prior to the 5-4 vote.
To this point, the 74-page omnibus bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis in Missouri has seen visible support from cannabis advocates in Missouri. The bill has been hailed as having some of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform elements of any marijuana legislation proposed in recent memory. The bill garnered more than 100 pieces of testimony during public hearings, both written and verbal, for and against the legislation.
The bill wholly removes marijuana from the list of controlled substances while touching on nearly every issue that has been addressed by other cannabis-related legislation in recent years. The legislation would allow adults age 21 and older to purchase and possess cannabis or cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use, it also covers tax reform for cannabis businesses, criminal justice reform, and parental rights of medical marijuana users.
The original version of HB2704 would have allowed for unlimited licenses and would grant regulating authority of adult-use cannabis to The Missouri Department of Agriculture. Those things changed during an Executive Session of the Public Safety Committee on Thursday. In the amended version of HB2704 that left the committee, regulating authority for adult use would remain with the Department of Health and Senior Services, a move that many have said makes sense in a legislature concerned with balancing the budget and the allocation of taxpayer funds as replicating a division of administration would be costly and could result in regulatory overlap and redundancy.
The second significant change comes as the modified version of the bill increases licenses, but does not ensure unlimited licensing. The amendment added in Committee would effectively double the number of current medical cannabis licensees in the state in order to serve the adult-use market. Additionally, the amendment contains language that would create a loan program to support women- and minority-owned businesses and encourage participation in the cannabis industry. That amendment contains language added by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, that specifies women who are recipients of, or applicants for the loan, must be “biologically” female to be eligible.