Lawmaker says GOP resistance may doom Missouri marijuana legalization bill

With only two weeks left before the legislature adjourns, Rep. Ron Hicks admits his bill faces very long odds

By: - May 2, 2022 6:54 pm

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, presents House Bill 2704 to the House Public Safety Committee on March 8, 2022, which would establish the Cannabis Freedom Act (Photo by Tim Bommel).

A Republican lawmaker pushing legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri says his bill is in jeopardy because of stall tactics by his GOP colleagues and the insistence of the House floor leader that it include license caps.

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, said he was initially told his marijuana legalization bill would come up for debate in the House Monday night, with only two weeks left before the legislature adjourns for the year. 

Instead, Hicks says House Majority Leader Dean Plocher informed him that the bill would not move forward without further discussion about including caps on licenses to grow, transport and sell marijuana. 

Hicks wants no caps at all, saying the free market should dictate how many businesses emerge in the potentially lucrative industry. He argues license caps implemented by the state in Missouri’s medical marijuana industry have created a monopoly and led to the appearance of corruption. 

The bill was already facing long odds, Hicks admits, with pending adjournment, the Senate mired in gridlock and continued opposition from the state’s medical marijuana industry. 

But Plocher’s resistance has dealt it a potentially fatal blow, he said. 

“I’m not sure if the majority leader even wants it on the floor,” Hicks said. “This bill has been held up at every corner. It goes into committee and it sits and it sits there and I see the lobbyists going in and out of the chairman’s office. It was held up in committee. It was held up in the rules committee. It’s being held up now.”

Hicks said Plocher insisted in their conversation that his support for license caps was not the result of industry lobbying but rather from a conversation he had last week with the state’s medical marijuana director, Lyndall Fraker. 

Plocher could not be immediately reached for comment. 

I’m gonna have the people step up. If I have to have them camp outside the floor leader’s office, I’ll do so. You can pitch tents.

– Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance

Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 creating the medical marijuana program. State regulators began setting up the new industry soon after, initially issuing 338 licenses to sell, grow and process marijuana — the minimum required in the constitutional amendment.

They argued the caps would help ensure oversupply didn’t fuel a black market and note Missouri still has more than three times the number of dispensaries as neighboring Illinois, which has twice Missouri’s population. 

But concerns about the caps persist, and have been stoked by rumblings of an FBI public corruption investigation and revelations of problems with the scoring process set up to decide who received a license.

Last year, the medical marijuana industry began the process of putting another constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot that would legalize recreational use and allow the state to continue to cap licenses. 

It would also ensure current medical marijuana license holders get the initial batch of recreational licenses.

Hicks’ proposal initially didn’t limit the number of licenses the state would issue to grow and sell marijuana. But that changed after Rep. Shane Roden, a Republican from Cedar Hill who chairs the House public safety committee, added an amendment that would cap the number of licenses at twice as many as are currently issued for medical marijuana. 

Roden bristled at the accusation that he intentionally slowed down the bill’s progress or acquiesced to license caps because of pressure from the marijuana industry. He says Hicks’ bill didn’t get filed until mid-February, and he didn’t want to rush the process on a complicated issue that was certain to face pushback.

“This was a very complex issue that had all kinds of facets,” he said. “Just the multiple rabbit holes this one went down, it deserved to have more time to actually have input from everybody and discuss a little bit more depth.”

Roden says he agrees with Hicks that there should not be license caps. But the vehement opposition from the medical marijuana industry, he said, meant the bill was dead unless it included caps. 

“I take offense if anyone says my committee held up that bill,” Roden said. “We did a deliberate job trying to work on a huge bill that took time.”

His GOP colleagues have “dragged their feet” in order to kill his bill, Hicks said, but he’s not ready to give up. Instead, he said he will encourage supporters to make sure Plocher hears from them in the legislative session’s final days. 

“I’m gonna have the people step up,” he said. “If I have to have them camp outside the floor leader’s office, I’ll do so. You can pitch tents.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.