Missouri lawmakers considered the removal of medical marijuana licensing caps but weren’t quite ready to pull the trigger.

Limits on the number of dispensaries and cultivation facilities were put in place for a reason. Namely, state officials want to prevent an oversupply of low-cost medical cannabis. If you put a dispensary on every corner, cheap medical marijuana is diverted to the illegal black market, at great profit, instead of treating conditions outlined in the 2018 constitutional amendment.

It’s possible lawmakers were mindful of the economic consequences of additional marijuana licenses when they pulled back. But it’s also likely that many remain squeamish, on a personal level, about liberalized attitudes toward medical pot in Missouri and recreational marijuana usage in other states.

We’re realistic enough to know that a dramatic upheaval of marijuana regulation may have been ill-advised in the twilight of this year’s legislative session. How many times have things been made worse with a rush job in the waning moments of the session?

Lawmakers instead chose to nibble around the edges, passing legislation designed to make edible marijuana products less appealing to children and to require fingerprint background checks for those who own or work in licensed marijuana businesses. Those changes will boost public confidence in the industry.

It would be a mistake, however, to confuse lack of action on licensing with acceptance of the medical marijuana rollout. The state’s licensing process sparked claims of scoring discrepancies and scales tilted in favor of well-connected applicants. More than 800 appeals were filed. A House panel is seeking records from the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Governor’s Office that could shed light on interactions with insiders.

All this suggests something more than sour grapes. We’ve witnessed a process that has failed to deliver the confidence that Missourians deserve with this burgeoning industry, regardless of your position on medical marijuana.

It’s hard to find a silver lining in the coronavirus pandemic, but here is a small one: The disruption from COVID-19 caused an understandable delay in the state’s ability to get these medical marijuana facilities ready for the public.

Missouri officials would be wise to use this time to regain their footing and rebuild public confidence in their ability to regulate this new industry, especially regarding the awarding of licenses. Otherwise, when the legislature reconvenes early next year, it would be a reasonable step for skeptical lawmakers to expand the licensing caps and let market forces play more of a central role.


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