Missouri Cannabis Rollout Under Fire for Exclusion of Some Incarceration Data

The agency examined incarceration rates over the past 20 years, which ignored data from the 1980s.

The United States’ War on Drugs spans decades, but Missouri’s licensing process failed to consider much of the impact the policy had on disadvantaged communities, critics say.

The crux of the problem: The state’s Department of Health and Senior Services only examined incarceration rates over the past 20 years, The Independent reported. Critics argue that this ignores the crucial period of the 1980s, when city jails were overwhelmed with low-level marijuana offenses, predominantly involving Black residents.

After this period, incarceration for such offenses became more common outside of cities.

Former Missouri Circuit Attorney Dee Joyce-Hayes, who held St. Louis’ office of city prosecutor from 1993 to 2000, opined that a comprehensive understanding of the impact on Black residents would require a historical review spanning at least four to five decades.

“In out-state Missouri, I think they were still making a lot of Mickey-Mouse marijuana type of arrests and prosecutions, but we just weren’t,” she told the outlet. “So if you look at the statistics, that would seem to kind of make sense to me that the city’s ZIP codes are not included.”

DHSS spokesperson Lisa Cox defended the agency’s approach, explaining to the outlet that data from the Missouri Highway Patrol, which only covers the past 20 years, is the most comprehensive set currently available.

In response to criticism, including from the NAACP, the DHSS announced a variance allowing applicants to provide other documentation of eligibility, such as an independent study or an attestation from a state or local official.

Cox told The Independent that DHSS is giving prospective licensees the opportunity to provide “additional proofs” other than any specific documentation requested.

“We are designating at least one way to show eligibility with very specific documentation but also allowing for applicants to show eligibility in other ways,” Cox said.

In another comment to The Star, Cox wrote that the department “has demonstrated many times its willingness to incorporate feedback and new information into its processes over time to ensure the cannabis program is effectively and appropriately implementing” the amendment to the state constitution.

But some say that guidance still isn’t clear enough. Critics are urging a focus on Census tracts for a wider reach, where people could qualify for a micro-license as long as 30% of the community lives below the poverty line.

The state’s health department will discuss these issues in more detail at outreach events in Jefferson City, St. Louis, and Springfield over the next three days.

Missouri’s booming cannabis industry has been forecasted to surpass $1 billion in recreational sales by the end of 2023, years after Black residents across the country were severely impacted by the War on Drugs in the 1980s – a legacy that still limits their economic opportunities.

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson writes about the cannabis industry for the Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri Statehouse for the Columbia Missourian and has written for the Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter at @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.

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