JEFFERSON CITY — The state House on Tuesday voted to pry open a trove of secret state records that detail the ownership structures of Missouri’s medical marijuana companies.
Lawmakers approved the plan, as an amendment to an unrelated bill, on a bipartisan 128-6 vote. The House sent the underlying bill dealing with local governments back to the Senate for consideration.
The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said the Department of Health and Senior Services rebuffed efforts by the House Special Committee on Government Oversight to obtain the ownership records.
He said that means lawmakers have no way of knowing whether business entities received more licenses than allowed under the 2018 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.
The constitutional amendment limits “entities under substantially common control” to five dispensary licenses, three cultivation licenses and three manufacturing licenses.
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The state initially issued 338 licenses to sell, grow and process cannabis.
“We need statutory language to make it very explicit that they have to provide us that information,” Merideth said Tuesday.
His legislation also said the records would be used to determine whether the state “adequately” used its authority to grant or deny licenses; whether the program has unreasonably restricted patient access; whether license scoring provisions meet constitutional muster; and whether there is a need for the state to lift license limits.
State officials raised concerns about a similar effort last year to open up the records, arguing the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana prevented their release.
Merideth said that as government officials, House lawmakers should be able to access the information as long as they’re not disseminating it to the public.
“We’re a separate branch of government that should — that is able to do our own investigation, as long as we’re not then releasing that information,” Merideth said in an interview. “This is different than making an open record.”
But Merideth’s amendment says the records in question would be open to the public, which he later said he did not intend.
“I’m not arguing that it ought to be an open record,” he said, “that their competitors should have access to it.”
His amendment won the backing of Republicans on the House floor.
“As a legislative body, we should be able to look into what our departments are doing and how they’re operating, especially when it comes to enforcing a constitutional change,” said Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa.
He is the chair of the House oversight panel.
He referenced an avalanche of hundreds of lawsuits filed against the state by rejected license applicants. Taylor said the money spent paying legal bills could’ve flowed to veterans if it weren’t for the state’s actions.
“The money that they … are using now to defend against that could’ve been going to our veterans,” he said. “And I think that’s a problem.”
Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, also spoke in support of the amendment. He is sponsoring the “Cannabis Freedom Act,” which would fully legalize marijuana in Missouri. His bill is likely to die when the Legislature adjourns Friday.
“A lot of times we may not vote with you, but we do agree with you a lot of times on these things,” Hicks told Merideth. “This is one I’m going to vote with you on.”
The Legal Missouri 2022 campaign, which is attempting to legalize marijuana through an initiative petition, said it turned in more than 380,000 signatures on Sunday in a bid to make the Nov. 8 ballot.
“If that passes and we have a situation where all of the entities that got licenses under this existing program then have an advantage in an even bigger market,” Merideth said, “I think we have some problems if we don’t have real oversight.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 724.
Posted at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 10.