Missouri activists announced on Wednesday that they’ve launched two new digital ads to build support for a marijuana legalization initiative that voters will decide on next month. But Missouri police are notifying the public that they did not sign off on one that briefly shows an officer in the pro-reform video.
Legal Missouri 2022 said the 15-second ads—which focus on the criminal justice consequences of cannabis criminalization and the tax revenue benefits of enacting legalization—will broadcast on digital platforms throughout the state.
One ad titled “Too Many” focuses on the thousands of people who have cannabis convictions on their records, highlighting the expungements provisions of the ballot measure.
“Too many people in Missouri have a criminal record because of arrests for small amounts of marijuana,” the narrator says. “Amendment 3 will expunge the records of non-violent marijuana offenders and safely legalize marijuana. It’s time to vote yes on Amendment 3.”
The second ad, “Our Turn,” points out that 19 states have elected to legalize cannabis for adult use.
“Now it’s our turn, Missouri,” it says. “A vote yes on Amendment 3 is a vote to let police focus on serious crime and give millions in new funding to veteran’s health care. For our police, for our vets: vote yes on 3.”
The ad briefly shows b-roll of law enforcement officers, one entering a police car and another on a motorcycle.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol was quick to separate itself from any endorsement message that might be implied.
“The Patrol is aware of Legal Missouri 2022’s advertisement featuring the Patrol,” it said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “The Patrol did not give its permission for its emblem, name, or images to be used nor was permission sought.”
The Kansas City Star reported that the Highway Patrol sent the cannabis campaign a cease and desist letter over the ad.
A similar dispute recently played out in Arkansas, where activists released an ad supporting their cannabis legalization ballot initiative that featured clips of police, though it doesn’t show insignia that clearly links the officers to any specific department. In any case, the Little Rock Police Department asked the campaign to take down the ad. Activists have refused.
In Missouri, John Payne, Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager, said in a press release that “this law would be the first of its kind in the nation, because it will be the first citizens’ initiative to automatically expunge the criminal records for these individuals.”
“Unlike other states where you have to spend a lot of time and money petitioning to get your record cleared, here in Missouri it would be automatically expunged and fully funded by a cannabis sales tax,” he said.
“#Missouri voters are overwhelming in favor of legalizing #marijuana & that is why it’s on the ballot this fall. We are excited to show #Missourians all the ways this could move our state forward in safety, fairness & a way to help our #veterans that has never been there before.”
— Legal Missouri 2022 (@LegalMo22) October 20, 2022
The campaign might be facing resistance from prohibitionists and certain legalization activists who take issue with the specifics of the initiative, but it’s raised a sizable bucket of contributions, totaling almost $700,000 in large donations since the beginning of the month alone.
A poll released late last month found that a plurality of very likely Missouri voters support the marijuana legalization initiative, but it also shows that nearly one out of five people are still undecided on the measure.
There’s been mixed polling on the Legal Missouri 2022 measure since the state certified it for the ballot, and this survey falls somewhere near the middle. It 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.
The latest survey 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.
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 last 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 last month that she is backing the initiative, citing its expected tax revenue and other benefits.
The largest labor union in the state, Missouri AFL-CIO, also endorsed the legalization proposal last month.
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 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 Brian Shamblen.