Missouri is shrouding medical marijuana in secrecy, hiding who wants to grow and dispense it

Attorney talks about effects of Missouri medical marijuana law

Jason Roth, an Overland Park attorney who practices in Kansas and Missouri, said some people who use Missouri’s new medical marijuana law could be surprised that federal transportation rules still prohibit it.
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Jason Roth, an Overland Park attorney who practices in Kansas and Missouri, said some people who use Missouri’s new medical marijuana law could be surprised that federal transportation rules still prohibit it.

Medical marijuana is now legal in Missouri. But the identities of potential pot growers and sellers apparently are a state secret.

That’s because the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services refuses to disclose the names of those who have applied to cultivate and distribute the drug.

The Department of Health and Senior Services is charged with implementing and administering the state’s medical marijuana program. The department has been accepting pre-licensing fees and the forms that accompany those payments since the first week of January.

But officials have essentially shut out the public by refusing to release copies of the forms.

In November, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly approved legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. And as of Monday, the department had already received more than 350 pre-filed applications and fees totaling more than $2.5 million to cultivate, dispense and manufacture marijuana-infused products.

Official applications for licenses won’t be accepted until August. Medical marijuana shops are expected to begin selling pot next year.

There is still plenty of time to work out the kinks in this process. But in the meantime, Missouri officials should lift the veil of secrecy so that applicants can be publicly vetted before licenses are issued.

The attempt to keep the names of applicants secret is bureaucracy at its worst. Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams says text from the voter-approved Amendment 2 marijuana initiative requires privacy.

The new medical marijuana law does indeed contain a privacy provision to protect business and medical records. And as the law stipulates, the state certainly must safeguard sales information, financial records, tax returns, credit reports, cultivation information, testing results, security plans and any patient information.

But the public has a right to know who has applied to grow and distribute marijuana in Missouri.

Proponents of medical marijuana have argued that basic information about growers and distributors should be made public. And they are right.

“We applaud the department’s commitment to privacy for patients and the security plans and other proprietary information of industry applicants,” said John Payne, the campaign manager for New Approach Missouri, which successfully advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana. “However, we believe that the public does have a right to know basic information about applicants and eventual license holders, such as their names, and we hope that the department will make that information public at some point during the process.”

Anything short of identifiable personal information should be public. Provisions in the new law were not designed to protect the identities of potential growers and distributors.

Medical marijuana is new terrain for Missouri officials. But other states, including Oklahoma, are on the right track in terms of transparency.

The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority recently published a list of licensed growers, processors, and dispensaries on its website. The agency had approved 33,214 patient licenses, 207 licenses for caregivers, 883 for dispensaries, 1,450 for growers and 377 processor licenses as of Monday.

Addresses for growers and processors are not included in the lists. But all application information is considered a public record.

State lawmakers should file similar legislation authorizing the release of names associated with growers, processors and distributors of medical marijuana in Missouri. State officials cannot continue to hide behind ambiguous language in the law.