Three key members of Gov. Mike Parson’s administration who are overseeing the rollout of Missouri’s medical marijuana program have been interviewed in recent months by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Each say the interviews were not investigative in nature, but were routine meet-and-greets the FBI requested to get to know the people in charge of the new — and potentially lucrative — industry.
“Just (to) get to know each other and who they were going to be working with potentially down the road in this new industry that’s now legal that’s been illegal, and still part of it is illegal,” said Lyndall Fraker, whom Parson appointed director of the medical marijuana program in January. “It was a very friendly, casual conversation. Nothing specific.”
Marijuana possession remains illegal at the federal level, but Congress has repeatedly voted to bar the U.S. Department of Justice from spending any money to prosecute people for using or selling it under legal state programs.
The FBI interviewed Fraker together with Randall Williams, the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees the marijuana program.
Williams said the meeting occurred in March. In describing state medical marijuana programs, the FBI agents said, in essence, “This can involve large sums of money, and when there are large sums of money we tend to pay attention.”
Williams said the agents also wanted to discuss how the state planned to pick who will get licenses to grow, manufacture and sell medical marijuana products.
He said they seemed happy to hear that the independent third-party company vetting the applications won’t see the names of the applicants — a so-called “blind scoring” process meant to prevent corruption.
“I think that gave them great comfort, as it does us,” Williams said. “I don’t want to speak for them, but I think that was reassuring.”
Bridget Patton, spokeswoman for the Kansas City office of the FBI, said she couldn’t comment on any specific meetings or areas of inquiry.
But she said it is “not uncommon for us to meet with different state and local entities.”
News that the FBI interviewed state officials about Missouri’s burgeoning medical marijuana program could inspire renewed efforts to establish legal protections for those who get involved with the program.
State Rep. Nick Schroer, a St. Charles County Republican, sponsored legislation making it a class E felony for a state agency to disclose the list of persons who have obtained a medical marijuana card to the federal government.
The bill was unanimously approved by a Missouri House committee in April, but was never brought up for debate by the full House before the legislative session ended in mid-May.
Fraker said the FBI agents haven’t sought any patient information.
“They haven’t requested anything from me,” Fraker said.
The FBI met last month with Sarah Steelman, commissioner of the Office of Administration. But a department spokeswoman said that medical marijuana wasn’t discussed at that meeting.
Steelman’s agency handles state contracting and procurement. Brittany Ruess, a spokeswoman, said the FBI made an “informational request,” and in response Steelman “presented an educational program on the state of Missouri’s procurement process.”
The Office of Administration, Ruess said, has not been interviewed by the FBI about the medical marijuana program specifically.
Steele Shippy, communications director for Parson, said no one in the governor’s office has been interviewed by the FBI. He told The Star the interview with Steelman was “primarily for informational purposes to learn about how Missouri’s procurement process works.”
“This is not atypical of other states starting this type of program under intense legal scrutiny,” Shippy said.
Calls to several nearby states that have legalized medical marijuana found no evidence of similar FBI visits.
“We’re not aware of any cannabis-focused requests like you mentioned,” said Scott Smith of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Through a spokesman, Doralee Chandler, director of the Arkansas department that oversees that state’s medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation permits, “reported no meetings have taken place such as those described.”
Jamie Dukes of the Oklahome State Department of Health said that state’s one-year-old medical marijuana program “has not been contacted by any federal agency, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
A study by the analytics firm New Frontier Data projected that those holding Missouri permits will be doing about $111 million in annual medical marijuana sales by 2025.