Congresswoman And Missouri NAACP Criticize Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Ahead Of Election
With days before the election, Missouri’s marijuana legalization campaign has again found itself pushing back against criticism from pro-reform organizations and officials, including a U.S. congresswoman and the Missouri NAACP, which sent a cease-and-desist letter over alleged unauthorized use of its branding.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) offered a veiled criticism of the ballot initiative, telling Marijuana Moment that the congresswoman “believes that at its core every state and local drug policy reform and initiative must be rooted in…equity and restorative justice like those she has called for and helped pass at the federal level.”
The sub-text seemed to imply that the congresswoman doesn’t feel the Missouri legalization measure meets that standard.
While the statement does not explicitly say that Bush is opposing the initiative, several sources told Marijuana Moment in recent weeks that the congresswoman is personally against the measure and initially planned to make a public announcement ahead of the election laying out her concerns.
It appears that Bush changed her mind about a forceful public endorsement against the initiative, however, and her campaign is now just offering the vague criticism via a spokesperson.
According to sources, the expectation was that Bush would come out against the initiative along with St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (D). The mayor did take that position this week, expressing concern about enacting the reform as a constitutional amendment and stating that any attempt to do so would need to be for a measure that is “forward-thinking, flexible and most of all, equitable.” She said Amendment 3 “fails to meet that lofty aim.”
But Bush did not join Jones in a coordinated show of opposition as some had expected.
“As a lead sponsor of transformative legislation to remove criminal penalties for all drugs, including marijuana, Congresswoman Bush firmly believes that we need to decriminalize and legalize marijuana federally and in Missouri,” the Bush spokesperson said in the statement to Marijuana Moment, adding that she also backed a House-passed cannabis legalization bill that sought to “expunge records, reduce sentences, and invest in equitable business and licensing opportunities for communities that have been most harmed and most devastated by the war on drugs.”
Overall, the statement certainly doesn’t constitute an endorsement of the ballot measure and seems to signal that Bush doesn’t believe that the proposed amendment contains adequate provisions on “equity and restorative justice.”
The spokesperson did not respond to a follow-up question seeking clarification on the congresswoman’s position on the measure.
As these final days before the election have underscored, Legal Missouri 2022 has found itself at the middle of a unique conflict this cycle, with prohibitionists and certain reform advocates banded together in their efforts to defeat the initiative. That includes the Missouri NAACP, which broke with several local chapters in coming out against the measure.
The state NAACP chapter sent a cease-and-desist letter to the legalization campaign on Wednesday, accusing it of “unauthorized use of its name and emblem” in advertising and marketing materials. The campaign strongly contested the characterization, saying that local leaders with the organization played a role in drafting Amendment 3, which has been endorsed by several NAACP branches in the state.
Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager John Payne also told KOMU that they campaign was proud to have “endorsements from members of Missouri’s Legislative Black Caucus.”
The chair of that caucus, Rep. Ashley Bland-Manlove (D), is among the measure’s most notable opponents, however. She announced in August that she was forming a coalition to inform voters about what she views as deficiencies in the proposal, particularly as they concern industry equity.
Payne said in a press release on Thursday that the Legal Missouri 2022 initiative has enjoyed endorsements from numerous elected officials, including Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) and seven state lawmakers.
“Less than a week from today, Missouri will make history as the 20th state to legalize marijuana and the very first state in the country to automatically expunge past, nonviolent marijuana offenses by a vote of the people,” Payne said. “As the only grassroots campaign to make the ballot, we continue to pick up support each and every day heading into the election because Missourians know Amendment 3 will generate millions in revenue and allow law enforcement to concentrate on fighting serious and violent crime.”
Eapen Thampy, a lobbyist with Great State Strategies, who opposes Amendment 3, told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that with respect to Bush he would “like to see the congresswoman take a stronger position” on the ballot measure.
“But it’s really revelatory that you have the [Missouri] NAACP, you have St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, you have Kansas City Call and the St. Louis American—our top two black newspapers—along with the chair, vice chair and at least two other members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus all aligned that Missouri’s Amendment 3 is the wrong way for Missouri and the wrong path for our Black and minority populations.”
Among the legalization ballot measure’s other opponents are the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Missouri Catholic Conference, Missouri Sheriff’s United, the Missouri Hospital Association, the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Baptist Convention and Pro-Choice Missouri.
For its part, the Missouri Democratic Party is taking a neutral position on the measure in light of certain concerns about key provisions, even though the party supports legalization generally. That is also the case with the state Libertarian Party.
Some of the state’s Democratic politicians do support the legalization ballot measure, however.
Democratic Senate candidate Trudy Busch Valentine, for example, tweeted in September that she is backing the initiative, citing its expected tax revenue and other benefits.
On Thursday, Missouri Sen. Barbara Anne Washington (D), who is Black, also released a statement endorsing the initiative, stating that prohibition is “needlessly harmful and has the largest impact on communities like the one I represent in the Missouri state Senate.”
“It’s especially harmful to those with past marijuana offenses on their records who struggle to get jobs and provide for their families. That’s the main reason I’m strongly supporting Amendment 3 to legalize marijuana for Missourians 21 years and older,” she said. “Amendment 3 will take part of the substantial tax revenue from marijuana sales in Missouri to automatically and permanently expunge the records of past nonviolent marijuana offenses, becoming the very first state to do so by a vote of the people.”
However, she added that this “is not a perfect solution but I do believe Amendment 3 represents meaningful progress.”
The largest labor organization in the state, Missouri AFL-CIO, also endorsed the legalization proposal that month. Missouri ACLU, the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Missouri chapter of NORML back the measure, too.
Meanwhile, a group of activists formed a campaign—comprised of lawmakers, a former Missouri lieutenant governor, legalization supporters and the director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity—to convince voters to oppose the initiative and compel the governor to add cannabis reform to the legislative agenda of a special session.
To that end, Rep. Ron Hicks (R) introduced a revised marijuana legalization bill in September, with the hopes that the filing would spur the governor to expand a special session to allow consideration of the emergency reform legislation as an alternative to a cannabis ballot measure.
The bill was filed just one day after the Missouri Supreme Court gave a final ruling on a legal challenge to the activist-led initiative that secured its placement on the ballot.
Hicks’s legislation has been slightly revised since it was introduced and advanced through committee during the regular session earlier this year. One key change is the addition of an emergency clause that references the ballot initiative, making it so the legislation would take effect immediately upon passage.
Gov. Mike Parson (R) said, however, that he would not add marijuana legalization to the agenda for the special session focused on tax relief and agriculture issues. However, Hicks said in a press release that “it is my hope that legislative action on my Marijuana Freedom Act will incentivize the governor to support passage of this legislation.”
Despite the debate and opposition efforts, the most recent poll for Missouri shows that there’s still a plurality of voters who support the initiative. But for passage, it seems the campaign will still need to make their case and convince some of the roughly 14 percent of undecided likely voters.
Past surveys gave the campaign much better odds, including one that found 62 percent of likely Missouri voters backing the reform measure.
A lawsuit filed in August sought to keep the reform proposal off the ballot after it was certified by the secretary of state. But after two lower courts dismissed the challenge, the state Supreme Court delivered the final word that the legal battle was over.
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The campaign has raised a sizable bucket of contributions, with almost $700,000 in large donations in the first half of October alone.
A couple weeks out from the election, the campaign took down and reedited ads promoting their marijuana legalization ballot initiative following a challenge from a state law enforcement agency.
The original ads released by Legal Missouri 2022 featured b-roll of law enforcement officers, one entering a police car and another on a motorcycle. But the Missouri State Highway Patrol sent the campaign a cease-and-desist letter seeking the ad’s removal, saying advocates did not have permission to use the agency’s emblem.
Meanwhile, state health officials have already taken steps to prepare for potential voter approval of the legalization measure.
A different campaign, Fair Access Missouri, separately explored multiple citizen initiatives this year with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot, but did not end up submitting signatures for any of the measures.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.