Local leaders in Missouri are voicing concerns about the distribution of and requirements for the state’s upcoming cannabis microbusiness licenses.
According to the Missouri Independent, critics argue that the ZIP codes do not accurately represent areas most affected by marijuana criminalization, contradicting the initial goal of the microbusiness license program to foster economic opportunities in these communities.
Additionally, critics point out that there has been a lack of education and outreach on the program, leaving many potential applicants in the dark about eligibility requirements and the application process.
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis City NAACP, was initially a strong advocate for the creation of a “microbusiness license” program designed to award marijuana licenses to business owners in communities predominantly affected by cannabis criminalization. This was presumed to include largely Black communities.
However, of the 121 ZIP codes listed as qualifying due to historic high rates of incarceration for marijuana-related offenses, only nine are located in the St. Louis region, and none are in North St. Louis, home to about half of the state’s Black population.
Three ZIP codes were assigned to P.O. boxes and institutions with high mail traffic.
The covered residential areas include downtown St. Louis and Clayton, both of which are far from representative of the communities the microbusiness license program was intended to support.
“Listen, not today, not if it’s legal and not even when it was illegal, will you find a bunch of Black people smoking weed in the middle of Clayton,” Pruitt told the outlet. “There is no way in the world the people in Clayton have been arrested more than the people who live in North St. Louis. It’s impossible.”
Pruitt’s concerns about the eligibility rules were echoed by Nimrod Chapel, president of the Missouri NAACP.
“This is exactly what we were afraid of,” Chapel said.
The state’s Division of Cannabis Regulation, which is part of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees the marijuana program, responded to the review stating it stands by the list and believes the mechanism for determining eligible ZIP codes is the most effective.
Amy Moore, the director of the division, explained in an email response that the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which was the data source for mapping out the areas, maintains the only comprehensive incarceration data set that can be applied uniformly across the state.
However, the Independent highlighted a disconnect between the DHSS’s account and that of the Missouri Highway Patrol. Lt. Eric Brown, spokesman for the highway patrol, clarified that certain ZIP codes in downtown St. Louis that are assigned to single addresses or P.O. boxes were not included in the information provided to DHSS.
The full extent of this discrepancy is not yet clear, as Brown recommended directing further questions about the issue to the agency, which is in charge of the rules.