Marijuana legalization bill advances despite controversial amendments

State Rep. Ron Hicks, sponsor of a bill to legalize recreational marijuana use in Missouri, let out a cheer as he left a hearing room Tuesday.

The bill, House Bill 2704, advanced from committee to the full House on a 6-4 vote despite several attached amendments that Hicks condemned as intentional obstacles.

But Hicks, R-Defiance, said there's still work to be done on the bill. Shedding some of the amendments he called "poison pills" is part of what he hopes to accomplish in House debate.

One amendment, proposed by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, would exclude transgender women from accessing no-interest loans available to women and minorities applying for cannabis business funding.

Along with Hicks, Democrats on the Rules-Legislative Oversight Committee made clear their opposition to the amendment, but all voted in favor of the overall bill in the hopes that their objections would be resolved through later debate.

"Legalize it," Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said during the hearing. "That's all."

Hicks' bill would remove marijuana and THC from the list of controlled substances, effectively legalizing recreational use for Missourians 21 and older, and allow petitioning of the courts for expungement of marijuana- related charges.

The bill's proponents are in a time crunch to get it across the finish line. The legislative session ends May 13, and as the bill makes its way through the legislative process, a ballot initiative effort is progressing that would legalize marijuana without the Missouri General Assembly's say.

And that competing effort to achieve legalization is gaining signatures. At over 200,000, Legal Missouri 2022 has surpassed the minimum number of signatures for its proposal to appear on the ballot in November. The signatures still have to be verified.

The organization is making one final push as the May 8 petition deadline approaches but is "confident that Missourians will have the opportunity later this year to vote on becoming the 20th state to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana for adult use," campaign manager John Payne said in a statement.

In a hearing in March, multiple witnesses in support of Hicks' bill argued the Legal Missouri initiative would repeat errors from the medical marijuana program rollout, leading to a monopolized industry and lack of oversight from the state.

The work of the Missouri News Network is written by Missouri School of Journalism students and editors for publication by Missouri Press Association member newspapers.

HB 2704: Cannabis Freedom Act

Sponsor: Rep. Ron Hicks