A campaign to legalize marijuana in Missouri is officially ending its bid for the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
While activists acknowledged last month that there was “no practical way” to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot since in-person collection was suspended as officials have shuttered many businesses and encouraged social distancing measures, they teamed up with other campaigns to explore alternative avenues to success such as pushing for electronic signature gathering.
But Missourians for a New Approach ultimately determined that it wasn’t feasible and they would have to aim to for a future election cycle.
“It was always a long shot, especially in Missouri, but we believed in the importance of exploring every avenue, given the strong support in the state for cannabis legalization,” Graham Boyd, director of the national New Approach PAC, which was a major funder of the state effort, wrote in an email to supporters on Tuesday.
“New Approach PAC covered the cost of all the legal work exploring the e-signature alternative in Missouri, but now with less than four weeks left before the constitutionally mandated deadline, we’re simply out of time and options,” he said. “The 2020 cannabis legalization campaign in Missouri cannot continue.”
A total of 160,199 valid signatures from registered voters were needed in order to qualify the measure for this year’s ballot, and as of last month, the campaign said it had collected about 80,000 raw signatures. It’s uncertain how many of those would have been deemed valid.
Activists officially started signature gathering for the Missouri campaign in January. The proposed initiative would have allowed adults 21 and older possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers and cultivate up to three plants for personal use.
Additionally, it would have imposed a 15 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue going toward veterans services, substance misuse treatment and infrastructure projects. Individuals with cannabis convictions would have been empowered to petition for resentencing or expungements.
“We’ve seen tremendous excitement from across the state for ending the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” John Payne, campaign manager for Missourians for a New Approach, told Marijuana Moment. “Missourians support taxing and regulating marijuana in order to give law enforcement additional resources to focus on serious crime. Eleven other states, including our neighbors in Illinois, are currently reaping the tax revenue from regulated marijuana that we know would be so beneficial to the Show-Me-State.”
“Unfortunately, while there is widespread support from Missourians to tax and regulate marijuana, there is currently no practical way during the COVID-19 outbreak to safely gather the 170,000 plus signatures needed over the remaining four weeks to put our initiative on the Missouri ballot in 2020,” he added. “We know Missourians want this and our supporters from every corner of this state will be back next cycle to put this on the 2022 ballot and finally bring Missouri the benefits of a safe and regulated adult-use marijuana program.”
The Missouri campaign is one of numerous drug policy reform efforts that have been derailed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded that the legalization push in the legislature is “effectively over” for 2020. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
In Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office.
North Dakota advocates said earlier this month that they are suspending their campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.