On Tuesday, HB 2704, otherwise known as the Cannabis Freedom Act, was voted out of committee; advancing to the House floor.

The bill, introduced by Representative Ron Hicks, R-St. Peters, would remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance and legalize adult-use marijuana in the state.

The bill advances after a 6-4 vote. The bill, while having resounding support for its criminal justice reform and expungement language, has seen criticism. In its earliest iterations, the bill saw cannabis industry professionals question aspects of the bill including testing and regulatory authority. The original draft of the bill would have granted administrative authority of the program to Missouri Department of Agriculture – a move that would have replicated an entire division of regulatory authority already existing within the Department of Health and Senior Services. Now the amended draft of the bill faces criticism from previous supporters.

The amended version of the bill that passed the Rules Committee on Tuesday unifies administrative authority with DHSS but also adds the ability for the Department to restrict the number of licenses for adult-use marijuana businesses, something that Hicks’ original draft did not allow. Even with a restricted number of licenses, Missouri would move ahead of established cannabis markets like Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington, with over 600 dispensary licenses (medical and adult-use) in the state. The Department would be required to issue a minimum of twice the number of adult-use licenses as “were authorized or issued as of August 28, 2022,” for medical marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensary facilities. That would mean roughly 120 new marijuana cultivation licenses, and 170 new manufacturing licenses for marijuana-infused products, in addition to the +400 adult-use dispensary licenses that would be required.

Members of the committee, including Hicks, voiced disapproval for language added prior to the bill being voted out of the Public Safety Committee earlier in April, despite voting in favor of the bill.

While the substituted version of HB2704 contains language that would allocate 5% of tax revenues from adult-use marijuana sales to create a small business loan program to support women- and minority-owned businesses and encourage participation in the cannabis industry, language added by Representative Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, reads, “For purposes of this section, ‘woman’ refers to the female biological sex assigned at birth, the proof of which is identified by a birth certificate,” was criticized by Hicks and others. Schroer’s language has become a point of adamant opposition from some supporters, so much so that it has been dubbed a “poison pill” for the bill.

The substituted version of the bill also dictates other allocations of the generated tax revenue including:

10% to the deputy sheriff salary supplementation fund
10% to the peace officer standards and training commission fund
10% to the state fire marshal for grants to volunteer fire protection associations
15% to the department to establish and administer the work training program under subsection

The legislation now moves to the House floor where it will face debate, where Hicks hopes to remove many of the amendments attached to the bill, before a vote by the body.

The Cannabis Freedom Act has limited time to move forward, legislative session ends May 13, and the bill must make it through approval in both the House and Senate in roughly 3 weeks.

At the same time, Legal Missouri 2022’s ballot initiative effort continues to move forward, announcing earlier this week that the campaign has collected over 200,000 signatures to date and is pushing for increased participation over the next few weeks to ensure the campaign has more than enough signatures to offset those that will be lost during the verification process. The deadline for the initiative petition is May 8.

“This tremendous reception from voters across our state makes us confident that Missourians will have the opportunity later this year to vote on becoming the 20th state to regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana for adult use,” said Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager John Payne.

“But to be clear, this is not a done deal. While the number of signatures collected already exceeds the legal minimum required to qualify for the ballot, our campaign will continue to collaborate with voters in the coming days and weeks to collect the tens of thousands of additional signatures needed to ensure our proposal exceeds the required threshold.”

The initiative petition proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow Missourians ages 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase, and cultivate marijuana, separate from HB 2704, the initiative petition does not need support within the Capitol as it would be placed on the ballot for a statewide vote and once ratified would become part of the state’s constitution – the same process by which Missouri first legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 2018.

The campaign says that the 6% retail sales tax would generate estimated annual revenue of at least $40.8 million and additional local government revenues of at least $13.8 million, a state fiscal analysis projects.

Read the full text of the substituted version of The Cannabis Freedom Act below.

 

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