Missouri Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Challenging Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative, But Prohibitionists Vow Appeal
A Missouri court has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to remove a marijuana legalization initiative from the state’s November ballot—though the challengers said they plan to appeal the decision, with less than 10 weeks until the election.
Following the state certification of the reform initiative from Legal Missouri 2022, a person identified as a Missouri resident filed a lawsuit with the backing of the Colorado-based Protect Our Kids PAC.
The challenge from Joy Sweeney, a member of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) argued that the measure violated single subject rules for ballot measures under the state Constitution.
It further contested the state’s process for certifying voter signatures, suggesting that there was improper intervention by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R). Prior to the verification, there was early reporting indicating that activists were coming up short in two districts in initial county tallies, but the state’s review ultimately found that the campaign had exceeded the signature requirements.
A judge with the Missouri Circuit Court of Cole County threw out the lawsuit on Friday, the day after oral arguments were presented at a hearing. The case was dismissed on procedural grounds, with the court finding that the plaintiff lacked standing because she did not prove state residency.
Sweeney said that she was a resident of Jefferson City, but the secretary of state’s office said it did not have sufficient evidence to confirm as much.
Judge Cotton Walker also said that he disagreed with the plaintiff on the merits of her two allegations, however. The judgment provides the courts findings for “informational and supplemental purposes only and reflect what this Court would have ruled on the full case of action, had it not issued its Judgment based on the failure of Plaintiff to prove an essential element of her cause of action.”
Ultimately, Walker said the court would have ruled in favor of the legalization campaign on both counts, finding that the scope and language of the measure was consistent with the single subject rule and that the secretary of state’s office dutifully carried out its responsibilities in verifying signatures to certify the initiative.
“This Court would have therefore dismissed the Petition and assessed costs against Plaintiff if it had ruled on the merits in this case,” the judgment says.
Luke Niforatos, CEO of Protect Our Kids, told Marijuana Moment on Friday that anti-legalization forces intend to appeal the ruling, though the timeline is unclear as to whether an appellate hearing would take place before the ballots are printed. The deadline to finalize measures for the ballot is on September 13.
“We are appealing this ruling because it appears the judge and secretary of state are ignoring their own records which show Joy Sweeney as a resident and voter,” Niforatos said. “This process, rife with the appearance of corruption from the start, continues to arouse suspicion as to the secretary of state office’s role in validating this petition. We expect a full hearing on appeal and a more proper judgment.”
Legalization advocates, for their part, are praising the new court ruling.
“Today we took another step towards the historic passage of this citizen-led initiative to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana in Missouri, while automatically expunging past, nonviolent marijuana offenses from Missourians’ records,” John Payne, Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager, said. “We are thrilled that Missourians will have the opportunity to pass Amendment 3 in November, which will allow law enforcement to better focus on violent crime, while bringing millions in new revenue to Missouri.”
We are thrilled that #Missourians will have the opportunity to pass Amendment 3 in November, which will allow law enforcement to better focus on violent crime, while bringing millions in new revenue to #Missouri.” – John Payne, Campaign Manager #legalmo22 https://t.co/oDBy700aJm pic.twitter.com/GhklONYgN4
— Legal Missouri 2022 (@LegalMo22) September 9, 2022
Ashcroft said in a press release that “regardless of whether you’re for or against the issue, my office responded efficiently and appropriately to the thousands of signatures turned in.”
“Foremost, we did the right thing in certifying this measure to the ballot within the bounds of the constitution and the laws passed by the general assembly,” he said. “We followed the law—we did everything right.”
Secretary Ashcroft was pleased with the court’s decision to uphold his ballot certification and the process pertaining to the Marijuana Ballot Initiative. #moleghttps://t.co/ezl1VUTCzm pic.twitter.com/zHeoBTkomv
— Missouri SOS Office (@MissouriSOS) September 9, 2022
Separately, the governor of Missouri recently ruled out the idea of expanding a special legislative session he convened to add marijuana legalization to the agenda, despite a push by some pro-reform activists and lawmakers who have criticized the ballot initiative.
Here’s what the Legal Missouri 2022 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.
Payne previously led a successful ballot effort to legalize medical cannabis in the Show-Me State in 2018.
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A strong majority of Missouri voters, including a plurality of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana for adult use, a recent poll found. And state health officials are already taking steps to prepare for 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.
Read the judgment on the Missouri marijuana legalization ballot case below:
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Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.