Four years after Missouri voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana, proponents of a new ballot issue are asking that the drug also be greenlit for recreational use.
Legal Missouri 2022 got the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot in August after a successful initiative petition process in which over 214,000 signatures were certified by the secretary of state’s office as valid – well over the minimum 184,720 required for inclusion. Amendment 3, the proposed constitutional amendment, seeks to legalize the purchase, possession, consumption, delivery, sale and manufacturing of marijuana for adults 21 and older for personal use.
If voters approve the issue, Missouri would become the 20th state to legalize recreational marijuana. However, the Show Me State isn’t alone in the general election on the adult-use legalization issue, as Arkansas, Maryland, North Dakota and South Dakota also have proposals on their November ballots.
Amendment 3 would levy a 6% retail sales tax and allow local governments to assess an additional local sales tax of up to 3%. The retail sales tax would generate estimated annual revenue of at least $40.8 million, according to state officials. The optional local sales tax could bring in at least $13.8 million for local governments.
The amendment also includes automatic expungement of the criminal records of Missourians with nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. John Payne, campaign manager for St. Louis-based Legal Missouri 2022, said the expungement provision doesn’t apply to those whose offenses involve distribution to a minor or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. Additionally, people who are still incarcerated would have to petition the courts to be released and have their records expunged.
“There is some difference in timeline of expungements based on severity of the offense,” Payne said. “All misdemeanors are expunged within the first six months, and all felonies up to a Class C felony of possession of 3 pounds or less [of marijuana] would be expunged within the first year.”
Offenses higher than Class C felony would be expunged upon completion of the sentence, he said, adding the expungement provision could benefit “hundreds of thousands” in the state.
Like the medical marijuana issue passed by voters in 2018, Amendment 3’s passage would create a regulated market where the state can cap the number of licenses it issues to grow and sell cannabis. Those with a current medical marijuana business license would get priority to obtain recreational licenses, Legal Missouri officials say.
The amendment would create a new category of cannabis licenses reserved for small businesses. The microbusinesses would be selected through a lottery, adding at least 144 licensed facilities to the roughly 350 licensed and certified cannabis businesses in the state. There would be 18 in each of the state’s eight congressional districts. Six per district would operate as dispensaries with the remainder as wholesale facilities.
For the microbusinesses, priority would be given to low-income applicants and those disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization, according to Legal Missouri officials.
The first 48 licenses would be made available in fall 2023, said past reporting.
Eapen Thampy, spokesperson for the “No On Amendment 3 – Missouri Deserves Better” campaign, said the ballot issue would create a monopoly for medical marijuana businesses to enter the recreational field. He said the campaign is affiliated with the Columbia-based Crossing Paths political action committee he organized in 2019.
“You’re creating a micro-license that can’t expand beyond set parameters. The proposal also doesn’t do anything for thousands of Missourians who lost out on the medical marijuana licensing,” he said. “It’s set up to help the market leaders who really control the license market.”
While he said Crossing Paths “100% supports legalization,” Thampy said Amendment 3 is too flawed to support, noting it also allows law enforcement to stop and cite people for public consumption of marijuana and sets felony possession limits.
“It’s a constitutional amendment that wants to create constitutional public consumption penalties,” he said. “This is absolutely unwarranted. It’s not the job of the constitution to restrain the government.”
Payne countered that it has been and will remain illegal for people to publicly consume marijuana in public. Amendment 3 makes illegal public consumption an infraction, subject to a civil penalty and a fine.
“We’ve dramatically lowered and capped what penalties can be in the amendment,” he said.
Endorsements Amendment 3 has picked up include the Missouri AFL-CIO; the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri; NAACP chapters in Columbia, St. Louis City and St. Louis County; all six active Missouri chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; and Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
However, the Missouri NAACP has recommended voters not support Amendment 3, citing restrictions on marijuana licensing and concerns over the viability of expungement protocols for marijuana offenses.
The Springfield NAACP chapter is yet to weigh in on the issue, said President Kai Sutton.
While supportive of legalization, the Missouri Democratic Party is taking a neutral stance on the amendment based on a recommendation from its state committee.
“Democrats support legalization of recreational marijuana use. However, as written, Amendment 3 may negatively impact minorities, people of color and low-income earning Missourians,” the committee said. “Democrats have concerns about the expungement provisions laid out in the amendment, as well as making it difficult for those who do not currently have a license to enter the industry.”
Michael Pearcy, managing partner of Buffalo-based Heartland Labs, which manufactures cannabis-infused products, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Amendment 3’s success with voters.
“It would give us a more expansive palette, if you will, to help folks understand a little bit more about cannabis and defeat some of the negative stereotypes that a lot of people have surrounding marijuana,” he said.
The company’s employee count is set to expand to 13 by the end of the month – an all-time high, Pearcy said. If the issue passes, he said Heartland Labs would hire around 10 more employees over the next three months.
“I don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse and start up a second shift now, in case Amendment 3 doesn’t pass,” he said, noting his company’s products are in over 120 dispensaries across the state.
Additionally, officials with Humansville-based Flora Farms LLC announced after Amendment 3 was added to the ballot they planned to move forward with plans to expand their cultivation facility by 80,000 square feet. Officials estimate project costs could exceed $14 million.
While acknowledging Amendment 3 won’t likely get the widespread support that medical marijuana did from voters in 2018 – Amendment 2 passed with over 65% approval – Payne said he still is bullish about its prospects next month.
“It’s always a little nerve-wracking as you get close to Election Day,” he said. “But we’re confident we’re going to be victorious.”
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