State audit is latest probe of Missouri’s legal cannabis industry

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Missouri’s elected auditor began investigating the state’s oft-controversial cannabis industry earlier this month.

First-term Auditor Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Republican, confirmed to the Missouri Independent that his office is looking into the various state and local agencies involved in awarding marijuana business licenses to ensure the estimated $1 billion industry is being regulated “in a manner that is efficient, accountable and transparent.”

Auditors from Fitzpatrick’s office first met with officials at the Department of Health and Senior Services on Aug. 2, the news outlet reported.

The audit fulfills a campaign promise Fitzpatrick made last year when he said he opposed an adult-use legalization initiative – voters approved the measure last November – and pledged to probe the industry if elected, the Independent reported at the time.

“I don’t like a government-mandated monopoly,” he told the news outlet last September, referring to the initiative granting automatic adult-use licenses to existing medical marijuana businesses.

Missouri voters legalized an MMJ market in 2018, and recreational sales began this past February, after state regulators “raced” to license 200-plus retail outlets.

The state strictly limited entry into its marijuana industry from the beginning, placing a hard cap on the number of MMJ licenses available.

Fitzpatrick’s audit is only the latest official dive into a program that has been dogged by controversy from the beginning.

In 2020, MMJ applicants denied licenses alleged systemic inconsistencies in how the state scored applications.

And, last year, a legal challenge to Missouri’s maximum of 60 licensed cultivators was thrown out of court.

In addition, federal judges have had to weigh in on issues in the market, and the FBI confirmed it has investigated possible corruption in the Missouri industry.