KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Now that Missouri is entering the medical marijuana industry, two Democratic lawmakers from Kansas City want to give businesses owned by women and minorities a slight edge in entering the market.
The Kansas City Star reports that the virtually identical proposals by Rep. Barbara Washington and Sen. Kiki Curls give minority- and women-owned businesses a 10 percent bonus when the state scores license applications on a variety of measurements.
Advocates of the bills say affirmative action is appropriate since studies have shown that marijuana-related arrests have typically fallen disproportionately on black and Latino users, even though white people use marijuana at about the same rate.
Missouri voters in November approved medical marijuana. The constitutional amendment requires the state to issue at least 24 licenses to sell medical marijuana in each of the state’s eight congressional districts, or 192 total.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services probably won’t decide who gets licenses until the end of 2019. But the department has already accepted more than $2 million in application fees from more than 250 people hoping to start medical marijuana businesses, so competition appears to be strong.
Efforts by Washington and Curls face big hurdles since Republicans have large majorities in both chambers.
Rep. Nick Schroer, an O’Fallon Republican who has introduced other medical marijuana legislation, said he’s a believer in the free market.
“I don’t think anybody should get a leg up one way or the other,” Schroer said.
Legal challenges are likely, even if one of the bills passes.
An Ohio judge in November declared unconstitutional a bill mandating that the state award at least 15 percent of its medical marijuana business licenses to racial minorities.
A similar bill in Maryland was recently altered, now instructing the state licensing commission to use other methods to increase minority licensees, such as community outreach.
Still, there is evidence of racial discrimination in some states with established legal marijuana industries. A 2016 Seattle Times investigation found that black and Latino businesspeople, and women, were underrepresented in Washington’s marijuana trade.
Julita Latimer, a black woman interested in starting a medical marijuana business in Kansas City, said that when she goes to marijuana-related business conferences in other states, she sees mostly white males. She hopes the bill proposals get hearings.
“We all know that women make less than men that are doing the same jobs. That same disparity happens in all types of industries, and the cannabis industry is no different,” Latimer saidAffirmative Action Proposed for Medical Marijuana Licensing