An adult-use cannabis ballot measure’s destiny was in the hands of the Missouri Supreme Court, and, in rare form, the state’s top justices said it wasn’t for them to decide.
Reform advocates in Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota have not been so lucky in recent years.
Organized by political action committee Legal Missouri 2022 (LM22), Amendment 3 is a constitutional proposal to fully reform cannabis laws in the Show-Me State. This ballot measure will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot and, if passed, will allow Missourians 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase and cultivate cannabis.
The proposal would also allow individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to petition to be released from incarceration and/or have their records automatically expunged. The criminal justice reform aspect of the constitutional amendment would make Missouri the first state where voters took such a step, according to LM22. Current Missouri law requires those seeking to vacate their convictions to first petition the courts, an expensive and time-consuming process.
While the road to the ballot included the support of pro-reform group NORML, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, among others, the initiative also garnered its share of opposition—notably from Jefferson City resident Joy Sweeney, who serves on the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.
Sweeney filed a lawsuit Aug. 19 in an attempt to remove the measure from the state ballot. The suit claimed LM22 did not gather enough valid signatures and that the group’s initiative deals with too many policy changes in violation of state law. The lawsuit was supported by Protect Our Kids, a political action committee formed by Luke Niforatos of prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
But the state’s Supreme Court justices declined the case Sept. 13, clearing the pathway for Amendment 3’s inclusion on the 2022 ballot.
“We are now one step away from passing Amendment 3, which will bring millions in new revenue to Missouri, while allowing law enforcement to concentrate on fighting violent and serious crime,” LM22 Campaign Manager John Payne said in a press release following the justice’s decision to keep their hands off the measure.
Payne and his fellow LM22 organizers succeeded in their petition efforts just a month earlier, when Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office certified the measure upon validating 214,535 signatures—well exceeding the 184,720 signatures required.
But those who sought legal action to keep the measure off the ballot aren’t the only opponents. Democratic State Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove and Christina Thompson, of advocacy group ShowMe Canna-Freedom, hold reservations based on the proposal’s licensing structure, claiming it plays favorite to existing medical operators. Thompson, in particular, voiced her support of legislative reform in March over a ballot measure.
In addition to its legalization and automatic expungement provisions, Amendment 3 aims to establish a lottery to award licenses distributed equally to congressional districts. A new category of cannabis licenses would be reserved for small businesses, which, over time, would add a minimum of 144 licensed facilities to the existing 393 medical cannabis businesses in the state. Each of the state’s eight congressional districts would include at least six new retail licenses for adult-use cannabis under the new category.
Also, the proposal would require a registration card for personal cultivation and impose a 6% tax on cannabis sales, among other provisions. The 6% state sales tax would generate an estimated annual revenue of more than $40 million, according to a state auditor’s projection analysis. That money would cover the costs associated with implementing a state-licensed program as well as automatic expungement, with remaining funds allocated to veterans’ services, drug addictions treatment and Missouri’s public defender system.
Since LM22 secured its initiative’s placement on the ballot, the Missouri Democrats have taken a no-endorsement stance and the Missouri Association of Prosecutive Attorneys issued a position paper against it.
The pushback from various groups in recent months was followed by falling poll numbers.
A SurveyUSA poll released in July that included nearly 2,000 registered voters in the state revealed that 62% of Missourians support legalizing adult-use cannabis.
But pollsters involved in a more recent survey from Emerson College Polling and The Hill revealed Sept. 29 that 48% of likely voters support the initiative, while 35% oppose it and 17% remain undecided.