The state isn’t supposed to issue more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management—but an analysis found instances where a single entity was connected to more than five licenses.
By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent
The Missouri House voted Tuesday afternoon to require state regulators to turn over ownership information for businesses granted medical marijuana licenses to legislative oversight committees.
The amendment, which was approved 82-59, was sponsored by Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis. He said the Department of Health and Senior Service’s decision to deem ownership records confidential has caused problems in providing oversight of the program.
Tuesday’s vote came a day after analysis by The Independent and the Missourian of the 192 dispensary licenses issued by the state found several instances where a single entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.
According to the constitution, the state can’t issue more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management.
But because DHSS has steadfastly withheld any ownership information about license holders from public disclosure, it’s impossible to determine who owns what.
The situation has bred suspicion, especially in light of more than a year of scrutiny by state lawmakers into widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations of conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications.
“We’ve asked the department: ‘Are there any entities that have complex ownership structures so that someone that owns one license actually owns or has a controlling interest in a whole bunch of others?’” Merideth said. “The department said, ‘nope.’ We asked for records to confirm that, and the department said, ‘nope.’”
He has no reason to trust the department, Merideth said, “based on how this program has been managed so far,” adding later that DHSS is in “dire need of accountability and transparency.”
His amendment would not require DHSS to make ownership information publicly available. The department would only be required to turn records over to legislative committees upon request.
Joining him in support of the amendment was Republican Rep. Jered Taylor of Republic, who is chairman of the special committee on government oversight.
“The department should be disclosing this information,” he said, saying he’d actually support going further and making the information publicly available.
Taylor later added: “If we want to do our jobs correctly, we have to have the information.”
DHSS justifies withholding the information from public disclosure by pointing to a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation… .”
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said DHSS is asking lawmakers and the public to trust that they are enforcing limits on license ownership.
“When I as a Republican I hear ‘trust us’ from the government,” he said, “I usually say no. Trust but verify.”
Merideth’s amendment was added to a Senate bill pertaining to nonprofit organizations. The legislation now heads back to the Senate, where it can either vote to send it to the governor or request a conference committee to work out differences with the House.
This story was first published by Missouri Independent.
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