Missouri can’t keep cannabis license applications secret, court rules

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Applicants who were denied medical cannabis business licenses in Missouri might now be able to compare competitors’ applications with their own after an appeals court ruled that regulators cannot keep such applications confidential.

More than 800 companies that were denied business licenses have appealed the application decisions and challenged the scoring system used by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

One of the unsuccessful applicants, California-based Kings Garden Midwest, argued in its lawsuit that the “scoring process used by the Department was arbitrary and capricious in that other applicants were awarded more points for the same and/or similar answers provided by Kings Garden.”

To prove its case, Kings Garden said it needed to compare its application to cultivate medical marijuana with those that received licenses.

Kings Garden – which was awarded an MMJ manufacturing permit last July after the state discovered an error in that licensing process – also wants an administrative hearing commission to determine if the cultivation application scoring system was fair.

The DHSS countered that the constitutional amendment that created Missouri’s MMJ program mandated that applications be kept secret – a position it has held since 2019.

But the Western District Court of Appeals agreed with Kings Garden, ruling that “the only way to determine whether the Department denied Kings Garden’s applications in an arbitrary or capricious manner is to compare its applications against information from those of successful applicants.”

A DHSS spokesperson told the Post-Dispatch that the department plans to appeal the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The agency expects to spend at least $12.4 million fighting legal challenges in the coming year, according to the Post-Dispatch.