The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, which wins 10 points for U.S. Capitol emulation. Credit: Jim Bowen / Flickr

With the Missouri legislative session set to end May 30, an effort to pass adult use legislation before the state’s medical cannabis industry can pass their own version of the law in a fall referendum seems to be faltering, according to legislators.

“It’s very apparent,” Democratic State Rep. Ashley Bland-Manlove told Grown In. “The lobbyists involved that monopolized the medicinal industry have gotten to other members of leadership. It is unfortunate as this bill needs to pass.”

The bill with the most momentum, HB2704, a bipartisan effort led by GOP Rep. Ron Hicks, would legalize adult use in the state, double the amount of license holders, and give a chance for nonviolent offenders to petition for expungement for cannabis related offenses.

According to Rep. Bland-Manlove, Rep. Hicks pulled back on a House floor vote at the last minute last week, due to concerns from other Republican lawmakers who wanted to include license caps.

Rep. Bland-Manlove says she believes that medical cannabis lobbyists influenced Rep. Hicks’ decision, potentially dooming efforts to establish adult use in the state. She believes lobbyists for medical cannabis are demanding license caps that would disproportionately benefit medical dispensary owners, and are moving to remove expungement language from HB2704. 

Bland-Manlove calls the state “in pole position” to approve adult use in the state after the success of the medical program that was established in 2018. With shifting social attitudes and new ballot efforts, she said it is only a matter of time before it is legalized in the state. Once that happens, she hopes Black residents can also be a part of the industry, a group that has struggled to join Missouri industry.

Meanwhile, Legal Missouri 2022, a group largely funded by Missouri medical cannabis companies, is petitioning to put recreational cannabis on the ballot. This week it announced more than 325,000 voter signatures have been collected ahead of their May 8 deadline.

If Legal Missouri’s measure passed this November, it would create a state constitutional amendment that would allow Missourians 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase, and cultivate cannabis. It would also make Missouri the first state in the country where voters choose to automatically expunge past cannabis convictions. It would also reserve 144 cannabis microbusiness licenses specifically for social equity applicants.

“We’re seeing this enterprise grow internationally and there are people jailed for something legal and profiting from it,” Bland-Manlove said. “It is wrong to its core. As the enterprise grows, we’re fighting the same systemic issues getting equity for everyone. As people become holistic, people want relief that’s not from a pill.”

Marne Madison, Missouri chapter director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, lobbied to include language in HB2704 on behalf of marginalized communities to be included in the cannabis space and level the playing field. 

“We have an entire demographic that doesn’t have proper resources to get what they need,” Madison said. ”Continuing to create opportunities for vets, seniors and lower class citizens and decriminalization is what is most needed. At the end of the day, the plant is all the same but education is still important to provide for patients and give those a chance to enter the industry.”

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.