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$4.7 million in medical marijuana money is budgeted for Missouri veterans projects

By JACK SUNTRUP | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Published: February 8, 2021

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — Spending more than $4.7 million in medical marijuana proceeds on upgrades to Missouri veterans homes is among the items buried in Gov. Mike Parson's budget plan for next fiscal year.

The proposed spending would go to HEPA filter installation, virus-response training, improved Wi-Fi to aid with telehealth and virtual family visits in veterans homes, among other projects, a spokeswoman for the veterans commission said.

But the plan follows disagreement last year over who should make spending decisions for money generated through the state's medical marijuana program.

In Parson's last budget proposal, he recommended money for the Kansas City-based Veterans Community Project, led by former Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat. The nonprofit is planning a tiny home village in St. Louis.

Parson, a Republican, didn't seek approval from the Missouri Veterans Commission before recommending the spending.

The plan frustrated the then-chairman of the veterans commission, Tim Noonan, who said he was kept in the dark about the spending. He pointed out that the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana says proceeds shall be transferred to the Missouri Veterans Commission, which would then spend the money. He also questioned not opening the tiny home contract up for competitive bidding.

Noonan resigned from the veterans commission on New Year's Eve after the release of a full report into dozens of COVID-19 deaths within Missouri's seven veterans nursing homes.

The Veterans Community Project sent out a news release last week saying the veterans commission unanimously approved $2.2 million for the St. Louis tiny homes.

But it wasn't clear whether the commission had a choice in the matter, given that lawmakers and the governor had already appropriated the money months ago.

Aimee Packard, spokeswoman for the veterans commission, said that like last year, the Missouri Veterans Commission did not vote on the proposed spending before Parson recommended it.

"The Governor's budget recommends $4.7 million in spending to pay for improvements to combat COVID-19, create policies and initiatives to prevent disease outbreaks in the future, and support MVC's ongoing mission to ensure Veterans and their families are connected to benefits and services," Packard said.

She said the spending included installation of HEPA filters, Wi-Fi upgrades, infectious disease outbreak training, advanced data platforms to analyze disease trends, "quick response teams," and enhancing the Veterans Service Officer Program "to assist with enrolling Veterans for VA assistance and maximizing benefits."

The commission also plans to use the money on creating a one-stop website for all veterans services, Packard said.

The House and Senate must approve of the plan before it moves to Parson for his signature.

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