Missouri voters will make their voices heard on a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize adult-use cannabis in the November election, but a group of lawmakers hopes the state can enact cannabis policy reform in a different way.
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A bipartisan group of Missouri lawmakers, in collaboration with activists, is calling for Gov. Mike Parsons to include cannabis legalization on the agenda for the Legislature’s upcoming special session, which kicks off Sept. 14 to allow legislators to debate Parson’s proposed a $700 million tax cut plan, the News Tribune reported.
Lawmakers and activists have also announced a campaign to defeat Amendment 3, the cannabis legalization measure that will appear on Missouri’s November ballot, according to the news outlet.
“Rather than settle for an ill-suited and monopolistic program shoehorned into our [state] constitution, the Missouri General Assembly has a unique opportunity to consider legislation that would legalize cannabis in a truly free market fashion,” State Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, said, according to the News Tribune.
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Some cannabis advocates fear that the ballot measure will allow the state to continue to limit the number of cultivation and dispensary licenses while giving Missouri’s medical cannabis licensees priority in receiving adult-use licenses, the news outlet reported.
The ballot initiative would also enshrine certain cannabis-related penalties in the state constitution, according to the News Tribune, and these provisions could only be changed through another statewide vote.
Joy Sweeney, a resident of Jefferson City, Mo., filed a lawsuit last month to remove Amendment 3 from the ballot.
The lawsuit is backed by Protect Our Kids, a political action committee (PAC) that was formed by Luke Niforatos of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and that is also attempting to unseat U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who introduced the States Reform Act (SRA) last year to federally decriminalize cannabis and allow states governments to regulate it.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft certified the ballot initiative Aug. 9, but the lawsuit claims Legal Missouri 2022, the group behind Amendment 3, had not gathered enough valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot. The plaintiffs also allege that the proposal violates both Missouri law and the state constitution.
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Legal Missouri’s proposed constitutional amendment would allow adults 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase and cultivate cannabis, and would also allow those convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to petition to be released from incarceration and/or have their records automatically expunged.
The measure would also create a lottery to award adult-use cannabis business licenses, which would be distributed equally to congressional districts. The proposal would also reserve a new category of cannabis licenses for small businesses, which would add a minimum of 144 licensed operators to the existing 393 medical cannabis businesses in the state. In addition, each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts would include at least six new adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses under the new license category.
Amendment 3 would also impose a 6% tax on adult-use cannabis sales, which would cover the costs associated with implementing the program and automatic expungement, as well as allocate funds to veterans’ services, drug addiction treatment and Missouri’s public defender system.
Missouri lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to legalize adult-use cannabis legislatively during this year’s regular legislative session; House Bill 2704, sponsored by Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, passed its final committee and was cleared for a full House vote in April, but House Majority Leader Dean Plocher would not allow the bill to advance without further discussion on business licensing caps. Hicks had advocated for unlimited licenses, arguing that the free market should determine how many businesses emerge in the adult-use industry.