Marijuana News - Late Summer 2023 Edition
By MK Thomson
September 7 2023
There has been a lot going on in the world of marijuana news – both on the state level here in Missouri and on the national scene. Many of us are waiting for the federal government to finally reschedule marijuana to a lower category of drugs and chemicals and it seems that we are getting one step closer to that monumental milestone. On the state level, things are settling down for Missouri marijuana with some good news and some (obvious) growing pains as the state works to keep marijuana safe, accessible, equitable, and enjoyable.
There’s a lot going on – so let’s dive in!
The federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) has formally recommended that marijuana be reclassified from Schedule I (alongside heroin) to Schedule III (alongside alcohol) after the results of a presidential-mandated research was conducted. Though cannabis continues to be technically “illegal” in the eyes of the government, President Biden requested the department evaluate the wonder weed in a move closer to federal legalization.
It’s ultimately the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that decides the classification for drugs, so at this point, it is only a recommendation from DHSS, but it is one step closer to federal legalization. Federal rescheduling could allow US stock exchanges to list cannabis-related businesses; they are currently listed on Canadian stock exchanges where marijuana is entirely legal. In the interim, the government has tried to pass the SAFE Banking Act, legislation that would give banking access to the cannabis industry, but failed to secure a (republican majority) Senate vote even though the House of Representatives passed it seven (!) times.
This announcement by the DHSS came out on August 31, so it’s not yet certain what – if any – move the government and DEA might make. We’ll be watching this news closely. However, it seems that the longer the federal government takes to change the marijuana laws, the more states will move forward. This will put the federal government in “catch up” mode when it does finally legalize cannabis, not to mention federally mandating certain growing, cultivation, manufacturing, and testing standards that might (will?) conflict with what the states have been doing at the state level. We’ll just have to wait and see …
Licensing for Missouri marijuana businesses has always been a hot topic. Since the state legalized medical marijuana in 2018 and recreational last year, the marijuana business application process and granting of licenses has drawn criticism from Missouri lawmakers for not being fair, transparent, or consistent. How exactly is Missouri marijuana production regulated? An unscheduled audit of the entire Missouri marijuana industry has been initiated by the state’s new auditor, Scott Fitzpatrick.
Licensing has been contested since Missouri opened its doors to medical marijuana, with the state limiting the number of licenses it would issue. This created a run-on for applications to gain one of the coveted marijuana business licenses. With the then-lack of transparency into the process, there were undoubtedly questions raised about exactly how licenses were granted. More recently, Mr. Fitzpatrick has argued that it was not entirely fair when the state automatically granted recreational licenses to medical marijuana businesses, saying that this move essentially created a “government-mandated” monopoly for such companies. (A little dramatic, if you ask me …If a business can follow strict medical marijuana regulations, why should they not be able to sell recreationally as well? We’re scratching our heads on this one too.).
Lack of transparency and accountability are not the only criticisms swarming over the whole realm of marijuana licensing in Missouri, but inequality with marginalized and minority groups within the state is also under-represented in the booming industry. Missouri lawmakers and advocacy groups such as the NAACP have rowed over the lack of diversity in the market and what to do about it.
The answer to this inequality was also to initiate a lottery for a limited number of licenses to help even out the inequalities. Earlier this year (2023) the state introduced the microbusiness lottery, an initiative aimed to give marginalized groups/individuals opportunities and promote diversity in the cannabis industry. The lottery drawing and the results were released in late August with six winners out of 1,625 applications being announced. However, this program itself is under scrutiny and has spawned a business demographics survey to investigate.
While licensing has been a subject of discussion since 2018, it is not surprising that there are growing pains as Missouri rolled and continues to roll out compassionate and responsible marijuana usage legislation. Since the federal government cannot move on the subject, states – who work autonomously and independently of each other – took it upon themselves to pass marijuana legislation. Then came implementation. Each state implemented medical and adult-use marijuana on its own and without a playbook.
Throw on top of that the fact that in the shortest amount of time, Missouri has become one of the most successful marijuana success stories – the rollout of marijuana in the Show-Me state will inevitably have issues. The important thing to realize is that Missouri is on the right track. Whoo hoo MIZOURAH!
So the administrative, legislative, and implementation thereof are experiencing some expected bumps in the road, and the marijuana businesses themselves have come under some scrutiny lately in Missouri.
While celebrating the state’s first fully legal (med and adult-use marijuana) 4/20 holiday, some Missouri marijuana businesses pushed the boundaries – and some even crossed them – when it came to some of the festivities. While most of the businesses did an “excellent job” of trying to adhere to state regulations, one reported infraction was a business that sponsored medical marijuana doctors to issue doctor certifications on the spot, without looking at the patient’s prior records.
This is of course an obvious example, but what about smaller infractions or something that a festival attendee does? As new cannabis regulations take effect, officials gain the power to fine, suspend, or even revoke licenses of marijuana facilities hosting events with unlawful activities. But how much is the actual responsibility of the business? The Missouri DHSS is having a hard time holding businesses accountable.
And some legislators voiced concerns, drawing parallels with the alcohol industry’s treatment. The rule dictates that licensees organizing events may face penalties for violations occurring there.
There are complex issues that underscore the intricacies of marijuana regulation in the Show-Me state, with ongoing discussions about the extent of authority and accountability. We’ll keep our finger on the pulse of all things Missouri Marijuana News. Stay tuned!