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State petitions filed for recreational weed

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Missouri’s medical marijuana program has yet to officially launch, yet efforts already are underway to legalize recreational use in the state.

Ten petitions to legalize recreational marijuana have been filed with the Missouri secretary of state’s office, and four were approved to circulate by press time.

Three of the approved petitions would legalize marijuana use for those who are 21 years or older, impose a 15% tax on the sale of nonmedical marijuana and allow people with marijuana-related offenses to apply for reduced sentences or expunged records. They also suggest allowing people to cultivate up to three plants for personal use and to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana at a time.

If approved, it’s estimated that annual revenue from Missouri’s recreational, or “adult-use,” marijuana industry could reach up to $155 million by 2025, according to the documents. Under these proposals, the tax collected on marijuana sales would fund veteran services, state highways and drug addiction treatment in the state.

Three of the petitions were filed by Columbia attorney Deirdre Hirner. It’s unclear whether Hirner filed the petitions individually or on behalf of a group, and she did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Mark Pedersen, a cannabis educator and writer from Colorado Springs, Colorado, filed five petitions before one was approved for circulation in July, according to the SOS filings. Pedersen said his petition is intended to repeal Amendment 2, which was approved by voters last November, and deregulate marijuana use in the state.

Under his petition, the state would:

• repeal all current medical marijuana provisions;

• remove state restrictions on possession, consumption cultivation and sale of marijuana, regardless of age;

• legally allow driving under the influence of marijuana;

• release people from incarceration, parole or probation, if they were convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related crimes;

• destroy all state criminal and civil records of nonviolent marijuana-related crimes; and

• prohibit the taxation of physician-recommended medical marijuana.

Pedersen, who lived in Missouri for 56 years before moving west, said he’d like to see cannabis regulated like any other food, noting he thinks the marijuana industry is more concerned about profit than the potential health benefits of cannabis.

“It has nothing to do with compassion, it has nothing to do with the concern for the sick and everything to do with making a lot of money,” Pedersen said of the marijuana industry. “I’m involved in this because I’m tired of seeing good people having their lives destroyed for the sake of money.”

Pedersen also has written petitions in Nebraska, Arkansas and Oklahoma – all of which were unsuccessful.

Is Missouri ready?
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services had received 26,827 patient card applications and approved 24,683 as of Dec. 18. The interest far exceeds the state’s projection of 22,500 qualified patients by the end of 2021.

But the patient count number isn’t a clear sign Missourians are ready to fully legalize, said attorney Chip Sheppard, board member of New Approach Missouri, which wrote the 2018-approved medical marijuana amendment. He said the only way to know is to poll the state’s population.

Dan Viets, Missouri state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, agreed.

“Whether the voters are ready is really the most critical question,” said Viets, who is also president of New Approach Missouri. “Most people predict it’ll be four to six years before the voters are going to be ready to do that, but it could happen sooner.

“It just comes down to polling, like any other issue or campaign.”

Sheppard said the petitioners more than likely polled the Missouri public before filing the petitions, noting he thinks the two petitions filed by Hirner have potential to get on the ballot.

“Missourians are probably overwhelmingly in favor of taxing and regulating it, instead of continuing to lose a 50-year drug war,” Sheppard said. “The best thing to do is beat it by legalizing it.”

Before that can happen, the petitioners have to overcome their largest hurdle – getting Missourians to sign the petition. A petition must be supported by at least 160,199 signatures to get on the ballot, according to the state.

“The hard part is gathering all of the signatures because that’s a $2-$3 million job,” Sheppard said.

Petitioners will need to gather 20%-40% more signatures than the state’s requirements because some of the signatures will be thrown out, Sheppard said. When New Approach Missouri was campaigning for Amendment 2, Sheppard said the group gathered more than 230,000 signatures statewide, which Sheppard said cost nearly $1.5 million in paid labor.

Taxation, age limits
Interest in weed is growing across the country, as 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 11 plus Washington, D.C., have gone a step further to legalize “adult-use” marijuana, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

In the states that have legalized recreational use, there’s a common thread in the language that taxes the product much like alcohol. Each of those states has restricted the use to people 21 years or older. Additionally, California, Alaska, Maryland and the District of Columbia prohibit driving while impaired by marijuana use, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The two petitions filed by Hirner follow this pattern.

“We should tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. That’s realistic, and I think that’s what the voters will eventually be ready to approve,” Viets said.

Sheppard said the proposed 15% tax may have hit the sweet spot.

“I think the biggest issue for businesses, and for the health of a legal adult-use market, is to make sure the tax rate isn’t so high that people don’t leave the black market,” Sheppard said.

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