“It’s one of those situations where there are weird bed mates, people on opposite ends of the spectrum who often don’t get along with each other.”
By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent
The Missouri House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to require state regulators to disclose ownership information for businesses that have been granted state-restricted medical marijuana licenses to the public.
The Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth of St. Louis added transparency requirements as an amendment to the local government bill approved by the Senate earlier this year. After a brief debate in which no one spoke to the opposition, the amendment was approved 128-6.
The underlying bill, with several other House changes, was approved and is now back in the Senate. The legislative session ends at 6 PM Friday.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers argued Tuesday that the Department of Health and Senior Services ’decision to keep possession records confidential caused problems in administering the medical marijuana program. And that problem will only get worse, they argue, if a ballot measure on recreational marijuana wins voter approval this fall.
“If we have a situation where all the entities that have obtained licenses under this program have an advantage in a larger market, we need to continue to do real management to make sure they are functioning properly. under existing constitutional guidelines, ”said Merideth, pointing to provisions on the proposed ballot measure that ensure medical marijuana license holders obtain the initial batch of recreational licenses.
An analysis by The Independent and Missourian last year of 192 state-issued dispensary licenses found multiple instances where an entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.
According to the constitution, the state may not issue more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under general control, ownership or management. But because DHSS consistently withholds any proprietary information about licensees from being disclosed to the public, it is impossible to know who the owner is.
The House tried to add a similar transparency amendment to the law last year but was forced to remove it under the threat of Gov. Mike Parson (R).
“I don’t agree with the lord from St. Louis City on anything, ”said state Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, said about Merideth. “But it’s something I’m going to do. It’s a nice change that will bring a little more oversight and transparency to this program.”
The state justified withholding information from public disclosure by designating a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional change adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department must “keep the confidentiality of those report or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individual data, information, or records relating to the licensee or its operation… ”
In February, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered the state to hand over some medical marijuana application information it verified as confidential to a company appealing a denied license.
Medical marijuana immediately became big business in Missouri after voters passed a constitutional amendment allowing it in 2018, and competition for licenses became fierce when the state limited the number it could release. .
The Missouri House launched an investigation into the licensing process in early 2020, due to widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations that conflicts of interest were within DHSS. and a private company hired to score applications may have contaminated the process.
Legislative criticism of the medical marijuana program, particularly the state’s decision to cap the number of licenses issued to grow and sell the product, erupted every now and then throughout the session.
Meanwhile, the rumblings of an FBI investigation around the medical marijuana industry are swirling.
In November 2020, the head of Missouri’s medical marijuana program confirmed under oath that a federal grand jury subpoena received by his agency was connected to an FBI investigation into Independence.
Missouri medical marijuana regulators received two more federal grand jury subpoenas in 2020, each of which was redacted before being handed over to the media at the federal government’s request to obfuscate the records sought by law enforcement.
A Kansas City-area businessman testified in a deposition that he was questioned by federal law enforcement in the end regarding medical marijuana licensing in Missouri and utility contracts in Independence — an indication that a potential extensive scrutiny of public corruption may be ongoing.
“It’s one of those situations where there are weird bed mates, people at opposite ends of the spectrum who often don’t get along with each other,” Merideth said. “But we agreed it was a responsible thing to do.”
This story was first published in the Missouri Independent.
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