Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Aims High but Expectations Remain Low

Previous efforts languished in committees.


An ambitious new bill called the Cannabis Freedom Act from Missouri state Rep. Ron Hicks (R–St. Charles County) aims to legalize recreational marijuana consumption, provide relief to nonviolent offenders who used the drug, and allow restaurants, bars, and other private venues to sell cannabis.

The bill would allow adults aged 21 or older to purchase and possess cannabis from licensed sellers. The bill intends to get rid of the existing statutes that criminalize marijuana activity and does not specify a possession limit for the drug. The bill would also make home growing legal with a limit of up to 12 plants, and home growers could contract out their own product to licensed sellers.

State Rep. Richard Brown (D–Kansas City), the bill's co-sponsor, says he supports legalization because "it's just time" to stop punishing those who use marijuana. He also said that the bill's bipartisan support (which currently includes eight Republican sponsors and six Democrats) means it could make it to the House floor for debate. Brown says that during his six-year tenure in office, a House debate on marijuana legalization has never occurred.

"It's important to debate it because folks and the media will talk about this," says Brown. He hopes that if more people start discussing recreational marijuana use, then more will favor legalization.

The Cannabis Freedom Act also includes stipulations for nonviolent marijuana offenders. Those convicted for nonviolent marijuana crimes could petition courts to expunge the conviction from their criminal record. The proposed bill would also make those currently incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes eligible for resentencing, and those on parole would not get punished for using the drug.

The legislation would prohibit law enforcement from using marijuana odor as probable cause to conduct warrantless searches. The bill would also prohibit sharing medical marijuana users' information with federal authorities.

The bill proposes "hospitality business licenses," which would allow private venues like restaurants, bars, and other food or drink stores to sell cannabis products. All tax dollars that the state would generate from the recreational cannabis market would be placed in a "cannabis freedom fund." The fund would first cover the administrative costs of implementing the marijuana program. Then the fund's money would get dispersed among other government-related programs like pensions and teacher salaries.

Brown remains cautious about the bill's chances of success. "I am not certain it will get through. It has a chance," he says. 

Brown says that his skepticism on the bill passing stems from the legislature's previous hostility to marijuana legalization bills. Last year, two Missouri state representatives, Peter Merideth (D–St. Louis) and Wiley Price IV (D–St. Louis) tried to pass bills legalizing recreational marijuana use but the bills failed to make it through the House.

State Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove (D–Jackson County), another co-sponsor, took a dimmer view on the bill's outlook. "I do not think this bill will be successful," says Bland Manlove. 

Bland Manlove says the Republican-dominated legislature will doom the bill. Republicans currently outnumber Democrats in the House 108–49 and hold a two-thirds majority in the General Laws Committee. Most previous marijuana bills have not made it through this committee for a full vote. In 2018, only one marijuana bill received a public hearing after getting through the committee, but it didn't advance.

Bland Manlove says she supports the bill in its current state. She says the legislation's goal of equity, expungement for nonviolent offenders, and the revenue it can bring to the state make it good legislation, but if the legislature removes or negatively alters the aforementioned stipulations then she will no longer support it.

The Missouri House of Representatives read the Cannabis Freedom Act for the second time last week, but the bill has not yet made it to the committee process.