A federal grand jury is demanding that Missouri hand over all records associated with four people who submitted applications to run medical marijuana businesses last year.
The subpoena, issued by the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri last November, was recently discovered by the Kansas City Star, who obtained the information under the state's public records law. The names of the individuals being investigated were redacted in the Star's copy of the subpoena, however. The FBI has refused to discuss the matter further, which is standard practice for an ongoing investigation.
In January, when this year's state legislative session convened, FBI agents began interviewing lawmakers, lobbyists, and staff. Most of these questions focused on Steve Tilley, a lobbyist who was once Speaker of the Missouri House, and is currently a close associate of Governor Mike Parson. Tilley reportedly has over a dozen clients in the medical marijuana industry, including the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, a group whose members have been awarded several legal weed business licenses.
Tilley is also a lobbyist for Independence Power and Light, the utility company that serves the city of Independence in northwestern Missouri. The lobbyist is also reportedly linked to a multimillion dollar project to convert an existing power plant into a biofuel production facility. According to other reports, the FBI is also investigating two utility contracts in Independence that Tilley is also connected with.
So far, it is unclear whether Tilley is being accused of any crimes, or even exactly what the crimes could be. What is likely is that this investigation may be part of a larger FBI probe into corruption in the legal weed industry. Last summer, FBI agents began investigating California officials who were allegedly taking bribes to approve or expedite cannabis business licenses. And last July, the FBI reportedly extended this investigation to Missouri.
Missouri legalized medical marijuana in 2018 with a powerful two-thirds majority vote, but the state has yet to open any dispensaries. As of this month, 35,000 patients have already been enrolled in the program, and the state has licensed 60 growers, 86 manufacturers, and 192 dispensaries. At the beginning of this month, state medical marijuana director Lyndall Fraker said he expected the state's first dispensary to open for business sometime this summer.
Although the full details of the FBI investigation are still uncertain, there is a chance the probe could delay the medical marijuana program even further. The state also just reported its first six confirmed cases of coronavirus this month, increasing fears that access to medical pot could be delayed indefinitely.
Fortunately, the state is not planning to let these issues derail the rollout of its long-delayed program. "I'm not anticipating any issues from COVID causing any issues or delays in implementation at this point," said Lisa Cox, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, to the Springfield News-Leader.