A plurality of very likely Missouri voters support a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the November ballot, according to a new poll, but it also shows that nearly one out of five people are still undecided on the measure.
The survey from Emerson College Polling and The Hill found that just under half (48 percent) of voters back Amendment 3, while 35 percent are opposed and 17 percent are unsure.
There’s been mixed polling on the Legal Missouri 2022 measure since the state certified it for the ballot, and this latest survey falls somewhere near the middle. It shows opportunities for supporters and opponents to convince a sizable swath of undecided voters to get on their side ahead of Election Day.
Support for the initiative was strongest among Democrats (70 percent), younger people aged 18-34 (63 percent) and 35-49 (65 percent), Biden voters (69 percent) and Black voters (57 percent).
That last finding is notable given that pro-legalization advocates who oppose the specific initiative have argued that a main problem with the proposal is that it doesn’t adequately address racial equity through opportunities to enter the legal industry. Yet among racial groups, Black people are the only demographic where there was majority support in the new poll.
Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove (D), who chairs the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, recently called on voters to reject the legalization initiative out of concern about what she views as equity shortcomings of the measure.
Bland argued that the initiative lacks holistic provisions to make the cannabis market equitable, unnecessarily adds penalties for certain offenses and falls short of resolving the racial disparities of cannabis criminalization—though she conceded it is likely to be approved by voters.
This new poll was conducted about a week after a separate firm released a survey that found 62 percent of Missouri likely voters are “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3.
That included majorities across all political affiliations: Democrats (77 percent), independents (57 percent) and Republicans (54 percent).
Still, the Emerson/Hill poll is more encouraging for the campaign than one from Remington Research Group and Missouri Scout that found just 43 percent of likely voters favor the initiative.
However, as Legal Missouri 2022 was quick to point out, the same firm behind that survey previously missed the mark when it found just slim support for a 2018 medical cannabis ballot measure that ultimately passed overwhelmingly.
The latest poll involved interviews with 1,160 very likely Missouri voters from September 23-27, with a +/- 2.8 percentage point margin of error.
Throughout this election year, the campaign has battled legal challenges and continues to face opposition not just from prohibitionists but also a coalition of reform advocates who have taken issue with the particulars of the proposal.
Even the Missouri Democratic Party is taking a neutral position on the measure in light of those concerns, even though the party supports legalization generally. That is also the case with the state Libertarian Party.
A group of activists recently 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 this month, with the hopes that the filing will spur the governor to expand the 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 that there’s now an emergency clause that references the ballot initiative, making it so the legislation would take effect immediately upon passage.
Gov. Mike Parson (R) recently said that he would not add marijuana legalization to the agenda for the special session focused on tax relief and agriculture issues that convened this month. 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.”
Some of the state’s Democratic politicians do support the legalization ballot measure, however.
Democratic Senate candidate Trudy Busch Valentine, for example, tweeted this month that she is backing the initiative, citing its expected tax revenue and other benefits.
A lawsuit filed last month 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 is over this month.
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.
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Meanwhile, 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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.