Medical marijuana is big business in the Show-Me state. According to a trade group, in 2021, the first full year for retail medical marijuana, sales exceeded $200 million and nearly one out of every ten jobs created came from the state’s medical marijuana industry.
Medical marijuana was legalized in Missouri in 2018 through a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution. Since the Department of Health & Senior Services began issuing medical marijuana cards in 2019, it has registered over 160,000 patients, a number that far exceeds what the state anticipated.
In contrast to the smooth application process for patients, the application process for businesses has been plagued by criticism. DHSS’s choice to issue only the minimum licenses required under the law set the stage for many disappointed applicants. Many of those who lost out alleged that the private company that reviewed the applications did so in a rushed and spotty manner, noting that the same or similar answers received widely divergent scores. The state is currently defending over five hundred administrative appeals and now, as a result of a recent state Supreme Court decision, DHSS now must disclose information from successful applications that it sought to keep confidential.
While Missouri has not decriminalized marijuana, it has reduced penalties for certain marijuana offenses. In 2014, the Missouri legislature passed a law, which took effect in 2017, that eliminated the possibility of a jail sentence for a first offense of less than 10 grams of marijuana and the ban on probation or parole for a third felony drug-related conviction. Missouri’s two largest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, completely eliminated municipal offenses for small amounts of marijuana.
Multiple proposals aim to place adult-use, recreational marijuana on the ballot in 2022. One proposal, Legal Missouri 2022, provides that cannabis sales include a 6% state tax and a local tax of up to 3%. The proceeds would go to funding of automatic expungements, substance abuse treatment, and the state’s underfunded public defender system. The proposal allows medical marijuana license holders first dibs on adult-use licenses and creates 144 limited social equity licenses. Critics argue that this proposal bakes in the inequities from the medical marijuana application process and does not do enough for minority businesses. The state legislature is also considering several proposals for adult use, including the recently introduced “Cannabis Freedom Act” which would eliminate license caps. The bill, which has 20 co-sponsors, allows up to a 12% state tax, permits people to petition the court for expungement of non-violent marijuana offenses, and provides hospitality permits to hotels, bars, and restaurants.