The Cannabis Freedom Act moves ahead with substituted version
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 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 comprehensively replicating an existing 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 changes language that would have allowed for unlimited licensing. The change calls for the Department 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, 170 new manufacturing licenses for marijuana-infused products, and a whopping +400 adult use dispensary licenses. The combined total of over 600 dispensaries would move Missouri ahead of states like Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington; trailing only California, Oklahoma, and Oregon in dispensary volume. The state of Illinois, which sold over $1 billion dollars worth of adult use cannabis in 2021, had only 110 dispensaries at the time. Illinois houses 225 dispensaries, currently.
Additionally, the substituted version contains language that would allocate 5% of tax revenues from adult use cannabis to create a small business loan program to support women- and minority-owned businesses and encourage participation in the cannabis industry. The substituted version also contains language added by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, that 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.” That language has caused a stir and could be a barrier of support for some in the legislature.
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 Rules – Legislative Oversight Committee.
Read the full text of the substituted version of the bill below.