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Missouri lawmakers OK plan to open up medical cannabis records

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The proposal to open up medical cannabis records overwhelmingly passed the Missouri state House on Tuesday.

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a measure to “pry open a trove of secret state records that detail the ownership structures of [the state’s] medical marijuana companies,” according to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The proposal was included in a larger bill as an amendment, and it “on a bipartisan 128-6 vote,” the newspaper reported. It now heads to the state Senate.

The measure was motivated by lawmakers’ frustration with a lack of transparency surrounding the state’s licensed medical cannabis businesses. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the “amendment’s sponsor, Representative 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,” which effectively means that “lawmakers have no way of knowing whether business entities received more licenses than allowed under the 2018 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.”

“We need statutory language to make it very explicit that they have to provide us that information,” Merideth told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

Nearly 70% of voters in the Show Me State approved the amendment legalizing medical cannabis treatment in 2018, but the program’s launch was beset by a number of delays in the years that followed. 

Sales officially began in 2020 after officials were stymied by COVID-induced delays and a dearth of testing sites for the cannabis.  

Nearly two years later, the state’s medical cannabis program has been doing gangbusters. The News Tribune reported that “sales for the program have reached nearly $336 million since the state’s first dispensary opened in October 2020,” and that it generated a “record $36.7 million in sales for April.”

A total of “335 facilities have been given the green light, with more than 185,000 patients and caregivers taking part,” according to the report.

Under the state’s constitutional amendment, patients with the following medical conditions may qualify for medical cannabis treatment: Cancer; Epilepsy; Glaucoma; Intractable migraines unresponsive to other treatment; A chronic medical condition that causes severe, persistent pain or persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those associated with multiple sclerosis, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, and Tourette’s syndrome; Debilitating psychiatric disorders, including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, if diagnosed by a state licensed psychiatrist; Human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; A chronic medical condition that is normally treated with a prescription medications that could lead to physical or psychological dependence, when a physician determines that medical use of cannabis could be effective in treating that condition and would serve as a safer alternative to the prescription medication; or a terminal illness, among several others.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Merideth’s proposal “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.”

The newspaper said that officials in Missouri “raised concerns about a similar effort last year to open up the records, arguing the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana prevented their release,” but Merideth argues 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 with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“This is different than making an open record.”

“I’m not arguing that it ought to be an open record,” he continued, “that their competitors should have access to it.”

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