State of Weed: Secrecy surrounds pre-application fees

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JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri has received pre-application fees from hundreds of people looking to own businesses that could grow, sell or manufacture medical marijuana products, but the Department of Health and Senior Services refuses to reveal who has filed or where they’re located.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is suing the state over failure to release public records. The paper claims due to Missouri’s Sunshine Law, copies of the pre-filed application fee forms should be open public record.

The state denied the Post-Dispatch’s request for the names of people seeking licenses. It cites an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that prevents the release of “individualized information” from applicants. The amendment states in part:

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, including sales information, financial records, tax returns, credit reports, cultivation information, testing results, and security information and plans, or revealing any patient information, or any other records that are exempt from public inspection pursuant to state or federal law.  Such reports or other information may be used only for a purpose authorized by this section. Any information released related to patients may be used only for a purpose authorized by federal law and this section, including verifying that a person who presented a patient identification card to a state or local law enforcement official is lawfully in possession of such card.

The Director of Medical Marijuana Regulation for DHSS, Lyndall Fraker, said legal counsel recommended the department withhold the information.

"It's our interpretation of the amendment that no personal information can be revealed, so we're trying to fulfill and follow the will of the people with the amendment," Fraker said.

The Post-Dispatch argues since the amendment does not specifically list the identity of the applicants as confidential, the state is taking an “unduly-broad interpretation” of the law which “effectively shields the process from public scrutiny.”

As of April 25, the state received almost 500 pre-filed fees for facility applications; 151 to grow marijuana, 269 seeking to sell medical marijuana and 79 looking to manufacture marijuana-infused products.

The state has collected more than $3.5 million from pre-filed fees since January 5.

Fraker said releasing names of who has applied for a license would impact the fairness of awarding licenses.

“The scoring system is going to be a blind scoring system. Names will be redacted and it will be done by a third-party, so certainly if that information is released prior to that, it would take away the blindness so to speak," Fraker said.

The department is not currently accepting applications for facilities, only pre-paid application fees. Applications for facilities are available August 3. The pre-filed application fees allow the program to have a starting budget without using taxpayer dollars.