In an effort to gain access to information on who owns business licenses to grow, transport and sell medical marijuana throughout the state, the Missouri House voted last Tuesday to require state regulators relinquish records to legislative oversight committees.
And as the legislative session was winding down with just a couple weeks before lawmakers would take their summer break, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) quickly responded on Thursday by suggesting a possible gubernatorial veto.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Peter Meredith (D-St. Louis), believes that confidentiality of ownership records by the DHSS has made it more difficult to provide oversight of the medical marijuana program. In particular, he points to an investigation by The Independent and The Missourian that showed one organization being associated with more than five dispensary licenses. Under the state constitution, no entity is prohibited to have common control, ownership or management of more than five dispensary licenses.
Another lawmaker sponsoring the bill, Sen. Eric Burlison (R-Battlefield), agrees with Meredith and stated that the medical marijuana amendment was an “awesome idea. I think it’s awesome”.
Nevertheless, he along with members of the conference committee concluded that with the provision being added as an amendment to an already existing bill regarding non profit organizations, the opposition from DHSS could bury the entire bill.
“The department came to me,” Burlison stated, “and said they felt that this was unconstitutional.”
The medical marijuana constitutional amendment approved by Missouri voters in 2018 provides justification for DHSS to retain information from public disclosure. A portion of the amendment reads that the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation….”
Veto Threat Convinces Lawmakers to Drop New Amendment to Medical Marijuana Provision
As veto power often does, the challenge by DHSS proved enough to sway legislatures in Missouri to drop the amendment to force dispensary ownership disclosure. Several lawmakers voiced their continued concerns. Rep. Meredith stated that the department’s determination is inaccurate, concluding that the amendment would only provide information to the legislative oversight committee, not the public at large.
Chairman of the special committee on government oversight, Rep. Jered Taylor (R-Christian County), conveyed like-minded sentiments by stating that the amendment is important in ensuring state regulators “are following the constitution, that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
This is not the first time Missouri’s medical marijuana program, which is run through the DHSS, has faced inquiries since its inception in 2018. A House committee probed through records for months into prevailing reports of inconsistencies in how license applications were scored following conflicts of interest between a private company hired to score applications and the DHSS.
The DHSS also received a grand jury subpoena in November of 2019 from the United States District Court for the Western District. The subpoena required the department to hand over records regarding four medical marijuana license applications.
Governor Parson has also come under heavy scrutiny for his fundraising efforts with medical marijuana business proprietors throughout Missouri to raise money for Uniting Missouri, his political action committee. The PAC reportedly raised more than $45,000 in large donations from the fundraiser.
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