JUNE 12, 2023 6:00 AM
As the Missouri marijuana industry rakes in millions from recreational weed, state regulators have slowly started to roll out a program intended to help small and minority-owned businesses break into the lucrative market. After voters approved an amendment to legalize adult use last year, only well-established marijuana businesses have been able to cash in while small companies have been left in limbo. A smaller micro-license program, overseen by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, is supposed to be geared towards minority groups, lower income individuals and those who have been previously arrested for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
One of the requirements to apply for the program was intended to give marijuana licenses to owners who live in areas that have faced high rates of marijuana criminalization, which are predominantly Black or other marginalized communities. But the program’s rollout has faced intense criticism from groups such as the Missouri NAACP on the grounds that some of the ZIP codes listed for areas with high rates of marijuana incarceration are heavily skewed away from the state’s two most diverse cities in Kansas City and St. Louis and towards rural parts of the state. More conservative and rural parts of the state are less diverse but are also where marijuana crimes are typically pursued more aggressively. Get unlimited digital access Try 1 month for $1 CLAIM OFFER “It seems like it is excluding the very people that were supposed to have been impacted by the law,” Nimrod Chapel, the president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, told The Star. Others have criticized the program itself, saying it creates a separate and unequal category of marijuana businesses that have to compete with large, established companies. Micro-license holders also can’t sell or buy products from larger players. In the face of criticism, the state health department last week made some tweaks to the program, allowing prospective applicants to provide documents to the state showing that, while they may not meet the requirements, they should still qualify for a micro-license.