Three years after Missouri voters approved medicinal marijuana, a group is increasing efforts to bring the legalization of recreational weed to election ballots by the end of next year.
Legal Missouri 2022 kicked off its initiative petition campaign earlier this month in Kansas City and St. Louis with the intent of legalizing the purchase, possession, consumption and cultivation of marijuana for adults 21 and older for personal use. The group seeks to collect over 170,000 signatures by May 8 to potentially get the issue before voters in November.
The proposed constitutional amendment would levy a 6% retail sales tax and allow local governments to assess an additional local sales tax of up to 3%. State officials project additional annual revenue of at least $40.8 million and additional local government revenues of at least $13.8 million.
John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, said the proposed initiative also has criminal justice reform in mind, allowing Missourians with nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to automatically expunge their criminal records. However, he 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.
“This is something that the public wants, and we’re very determined to put this on the ballot and give them a chance to vote on it,” Payne said of the proposed initiative.
Money generated by the program would cover costs including expungement, with surplus funds reserved for veterans’ health care, drug addiction treatment and the state’s public defender system.
Payne also was involved with the campaign of New Approach Missouri, which successfully placed the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative on the November 2018 ballot. Roughly 66% of voters statewide approved the amendment, which launched a new industry for Missouri. The first full year of legal marijuana sales surpassed $160 million in October, and reached the $200 million mark this month, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Additionally, DHSS reports over 158,000 patients and nearly 3,300 caregivers are active in Missouri’s program. State officials say both the sales and patient count are exceeding expectations.
Payne said support for medical marijuana is a factor in his group’s initiative messaging.
“It certainly makes it easier because people see very directly that this is something that is in their communities, is a regulated product now and it is working just fine,” he said. “It’s helping people medically; it’s providing people jobs and contributing positively to the community. That makes people more willing to consider taking a further step in marijuana reform.”
Kim Andrews, general manager and investor with Springfield medical marijuana dispensary Ozarx Botanicals I LLC, believes the passage of Amendment 2 has laid a foundation for full cannabis legalization. She’s hopeful the industry success also has allayed fears from early detractors.
“The dispensaries, manufacturing and cultivation, these are good businesses run by businesspeople. These are not back-alley operations,” she said. “Nobody wants to see anything detrimental to the industry. That’s getting out there, and people are responding well to that, finding that when they go into a dispensary, it can be any other store in any other industry.”
Still, despite the new industry’s success, Andrews said a black market still exists.
“Making it recreational will combat that black market just by lowering prices,” she said, adding she’s supportive of Legal Missouri’s proposed initiative.
Andrews said some people are not comfortable getting a medical marijuana identification card due to job security concerns if their employer discovered they held one. That might make the recreational market their best avenue, she said.
The petition language would keep the medical marijuana tax rate at 4%, which Andrews and Payne both said shouldn’t result in current cannabis patients getting rid of their ID cards. Payne said under the initiative, the card would only need to be renewed every three years instead of annually, as the state currently requires.
Legal Missouri 2022 isn’t the only group seeking marijuana legalization through a ballot issue. Fair Access Missouri also filed an initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office this summer. According to FairAccessMo.com, the petition proposes adding a section to a state amendment allowing eligible residents 21 years or older to possess up to eight ounces of dried, unprocessed flower; up to 28 grams of concentrated resin or extract; and up to 4,000 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in cannabis-infused products.
Other components of the proposal include:
Attempts to reach officials with Fair Access Missouri were unsuccessful.
According to Missouri Ethics Commission quarterly reports, Legal Missouri 2022 has spent roughly $280,000 through the end of September, while Fair Access Missouri expenditures were roughly $92,000.
However, Payne said Legal Missouri’s spending through mid-December is roughly $480,000.
While the most recent MEC report lists nearly $344,000 in receipts for Legal Missouri this election cycle, Payne said the campaign has raised roughly $700,000 to date.
Several companies in the medical marijuana industry are among its largest donors, including $42,500 from Blue Springs-based Kansas City Cannabis Co. LLC, and $25,000 each from Earth City-based BeLeaf Medical LLC and Independence-based OXG LLC. Local companies such as Old Route 66 Wellness LLC and Easy Mountain Investments LLC have also made $4,500 contributions, according to the report.
Payne said he’s unsure of the number of signatures collected since the process began last month. He said the group previously tried to place the legalization issue before voters last year, but efforts were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, as stay-at-home orders halted signature collections.
With the May deadline still over five months away, Payne said his confidence level is high that the initiative will appear before voters in November.
“There’s still a long way to go, but this is probably the best circumstance that we’ve been in, in terms of being able to gather all the signatures and having a very strong coalition behind us,” he said.
Read the profiles of this year's honorees.