With less than a month to go before voters head to the polls, the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana is getting a financial boost from the medical marijuana industry.
Legal Missouri 2022 — the political action committee supporting a marijuana proposal that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as Amendment 3 — has raised nearly $700,000 in large donations since Oct. 1.
The money came from companies in the medical marijuana industry, which under Amendment 3 would get first dibs on the more lucrative recreational licenses issued by the state to grow, manufacture and sell marijuana.
The largest contribution was a $200,000 check from Springfield-based BD Health Ventures LLC, which under the medical marijuana program was awarded two dispensary and three cultivation licenses.
A $100,000 check came from Grassroots OpCo LLC, which was awarded five dispensary licenses but is connected to a chain of at least 16 dispensaries across Missouri.
According to its July quarterly disclosure report with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Legal Missouri 2022 spent nearly $6 million getting Amendment 3 on the ballot.
On the other side of the issue is a PAC called Save Our State. Run by former lawmaker and longtime GOP political strategist Scott Dieckhaus, the PAC was created in early September to oppose Amendment 3.
Save Our State has not reported any contributions since it launched.
Amendment 3 asks voters whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to remove bans on marijuana sales, consumption and manufacturing for adults over 21 years old, with some caveats.
The amendment includes automatic expungement for certain people who have nonviolent marijuana-related offenses on their record. People who are still incarcerated would have to petition the courts to be released and have their records expunged.
It would create a regulated market where, just like for medical marijuana, the state would have the authority to cap the number of licenses it issues to grow and sell cannabis. Those with a current medical marijuana business license would be first in line to get recreational licenses.
After voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, state regulators decided to only issue the minimum number of licenses allowed — 60 cultivation licenses, 192 dispensary licenses and 86 manufacturing licenses.
The decision has stirred controversy ever since.
The Missouri House launched an investigation into the licensing process in early 2020, fueled by widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations that conflicts of interest within the state health department and a private company hired to score applications may have tainted the process.
Denied applicants filed hundreds of appeals, and rumblings of FBI scrutiny of the industry have been persistent
Both state regulators and industry leaders have long denied any wrongdoing in the marijuana licensing process. And they defend the license caps by noting Missouri issued far more than most states and arguing that by capping licenses the state ensures oversupply doesn’t fuel a black market.
But that’s done little to quell critics, who say the caps have benefited connected insiders in the medical marijuana industry who now stand to reap most of the financial rewards if Missourians vote to legalize recreational use.