Missouri activists have turned in more than double the amount of signatures needed to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.
As the prospects of enacting reform through the legislature have dwindled in recent days, Legal Missouri 2022 turned in more than 385,000 signatures to the state on Sunday. They need 171,592 of those submission to be validated in order to put the issue before voters.
Campaign manager John Payne previously led a successful ballot effort to legalize medical cannabis in the Show-Me State in 2018.
“As we submit more than 385,000 petition signatures to the state today, the message from voters is clear: it’s past time to end the senseless and costly prohibition of marijuana,” Payne said in a press release. “This widespread and enthusiastic show of support from the people of Missouri exceeds our expectations.”
While the largely industry-funded signature drive for the adult-use initiative appears to have proved fruitful, some advocates and stakeholders have raised concerns about the proposal and pushed for legislative reform instead, like a legalization bill from Rep. Ron Hicks (R).
That measure moved through the committee process, and there were expectations that it would reach the House floor last week, but the sponsor now says that it doesn’t seem leadership is willing to advance it before the session adjourns on May 13.
Now if Missouri is going to legalize marijuana this year, it appears that it will be up to voters in November, assuming the secretary of state determines that the ballot campaign turned in enough valid petitions to qualify the initiative.
Here’s what Legal Missouri 2022’s reform initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis.
They could also grow up to six flowering marijuana plants, six immature plants and six clones if they obtain a registration card.
The initiative would impose a six percent tax on recreational cannabis sales and use revenue to facilitate automatic expungements for people with certain non-violent marijuana offenses on their records.
Remaining revenue would go toward veterans’ healthcare, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.
The Department of Health and Senior Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing licenses for cannabis businesses.
Regulators would be required to issue at least 144 microbusiness licenses through a lottery system, with priority given to low-income applicants and people who have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would also be first in line to start serving adult consumers with dual licenses.
Regulators could create rules around advertising, but they could not be any more stringent than existing restrictions on alcohol marketing.
Public consumption, driving under the influence of cannabis and underage marijuana use would be explicitly prohibited.
A seed-to-sale tracking system would be established for the marijuana market.
Local jurisdictions would be able to opt out of permitting cannabis microbusinesses or retailers from operating in their area if voters approve the ban at the ballot.
The measure would further codify employment protections for medical cannabis patients.
Medical marijuana cards would be valid for three years at a time, instead of one. And caregivers would be able to serve double the number of patients.
Legal Missouri 2022’s initiative is backed by the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association as well as ACLU of Missouri; St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County chapters of the NAACP; NORML KC and Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. However, certain advocates and stakeholders have pushed back against the campaign.
But supporters of the Hicks bill, for example, have argued that the lack of specific language in the initiative prohibiting a licensing cap means the market that emerges will not be competitive. Some have also raised concerns about the measure’s provisions to give medical cannabis dispensaries a head start in serving the adult-use market.
Eapen Thampy, a lobbyist who’s worked with Hicks to advance his reform proposal, recently submitted a complaint to the secretary of state’s office, alleging that certain Legal Missouri 2022 signature collectors have misrepresented the measure when talking to voters.
Payne of Legal Missouri 2022 dismissed the allegations in the complaint, telling Marijuana Moment recently that it relies on “thinly-sourced inferences and vague references to unnamed petitioners.”
Hick’s bill, meanwhile, would legalize the possession and sale of cannabis for adults 21 or older, provide opportunities for expungements, authorize social consumption facilities and permit cannabis businesses to claim tax deductions with the state. But the sponsor has conceded that the window to pass it before the end of the legislative session is effectively closed.
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Activists with Legal Missouri 2022 aren’t the only ones pushing to put legalization on the ballot. A Missouri House committee on Tuesday approved a GOP-led joint resolution seeking to let voters decided on the reform.
Rep. Shamed Dogan’s (R) legislation was amended ahead of the panel’s action to scale back some of its provisions.
Under his revised proposal, cannabis offenses would be removed from the state’s criminal statute, allowing adults to possess, use and sell marijuana for personal use without facing penalties, pending future regulations that could be enacted by the legislature.
Another Republican lawmaker in the state, Rep. Jason Chipman (R), filed a joint resolution this session that would let voters require additional oversight over how medical cannabis tax revenue is distributed to veterans.
A different campaign, Fair Access Missouri, separately explored multiple citizen initiatives this year with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot.
Another state lawmaker filed a bill late in February to decriminalize a range of drugs including marijuana, psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and cocaine.
The measure’s introduction came after a Republican Missouri legislator filed a separate bill to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.
Additionally, a Missouri House committee held a hearing in March on a GOP-led bill to legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use at designated care facilities while further decriminalizing low-level possession in general.
Nearly one out of every 10 jobs that were created in Missouri last year came from the state’s medical marijuana industry, according to an analysis of state labor data that was released by a trade group last month.
Separately, there’s some legislative drama playing out in the state over a proposal that advocates say would restrict their ability to place Constitutional amendments on the ballot.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.