Missouri voters will have a chance to legalize marijuana on Tuesday, though its prospects have been challenged by opposition from certain cannabis reform activists and prohibitionists alike.
Legal Missouri 2022 is behind the measure, and the campaign has worked for months to convince voters to pass Amendment 3 despite criticism from people on both sides of the issue.
Now the reform is in voters’ hands, though there’s been mixed polling on the proposed amendment since the state certified it for the ballot.
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.
Polls released in September and early November by Emerson College and The Hill found that a plurality of very likely Missouri voters supported the marijuana legalization initiative, but also showed significant shares of voters were still undecided on the measure.
In September, SurveyUSA found 62 percent of Missouri likely voters were “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3. The firm is also behind the latest survey on the initiative, finding that the race is only slightly tightening, with 61 percent of likely Missouri voters saying they are “certain” to approve it.
Those results are more encouraging for the campaign than a survey from Remington Research Group and Missouri Scout that found just 43 percent of likely voters favored 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 opposition not just from prohibitionists but also a coalition of reform advocates who have taken issue with the particulars of the proposal.
Most recently, the campaign has found itself pushing back against criticism from a U.S. congresswoman and the Missouri NAACP, which sent a cease-and-desist letter over alleged unauthorized use of its branding.
A spokesperson for Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) offered a veiled criticism of the ballot initiative, telling Marijuana Moment that the congresswoman “believes that at its core every state and local drug policy reform and initiative must be rooted in…equity and restorative justice like those she has called for and helped pass at the federal level.”
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (D) came out against the proposal. She expressed concern about enacting the reform as a constitutional amendment and said that any attempt to do so would need to be for a measure that is “forward-thinking, flexible and most of all, equitable.” She said Amendment 3 “fails to meet that lofty aim.”
Rep. Ashley Bland-Manlove (D), chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, is among the measure’s most notable opponents. She announced in August that she was forming a coalition to inform voters about what she views as deficiencies in the proposal, particularly as they concern industry equity.
Even the Missouri Democratic Party is taking a neutral position on the measure in light of those certain concerns, even though the party supports legalization generally. That is also the case with the state Libertarian Party.
A group of activists 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 in September, with the hopes that the filing would spur the governor to expand a 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 the addition of an emergency clause that references the ballot initiative, making it so the legislation would take effect immediately upon passage.
Gov. Mike Parson (R) said, however, that he would not add marijuana legalization to the agenda for the special session focused on tax relief and agriculture issues. 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.”
Among the legalization ballot measure’s opponents are the Missouri NAACP, Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Missouri Catholic Conference, Missouri Sheriff’s United, the Missouri Hospital Association, the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Baptist Convention and Pro-Choice Missouri.
Some of the state’s Democratic politicians do support the legalization ballot measure, however.
Democratic Senate candidate Trudy Busch Valentine, for example, tweeted in September that she is backing the initiative, citing its expected tax revenue and other benefits.
The largest labor organization in the state, Missouri AFL-CIO, also endorsed the legalization proposal. Missouri ACLU, the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Missouri chapter of NORML back the measure, too.
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 was over.
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The campaign has raised a sizable bucket of contributions, with almost $700,000 in large donations in the first half of October alone.
A couple weeks out from the election, the campaign took down and reedited ads promoting their marijuana legalization ballot initiative following a challenge from a state law enforcement agency.
The original ads released by Legal Missouri 2022 featured b-roll of law enforcement officers, one entering a police car and another on a motorcycle. But the Missouri State Highway Patrol sent the campaign a cease-and-desist letter seeking the ad’s removal, saying advocates did not have permission to use the agency’s emblem.
Meanwhile, state health officials have already taken steps to prepare for potential 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.
Marijuana and psychedelics initiatives are also on the ballot in Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, North Dakota and South Dakota on Tuesday.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.