A group of Missouri marijuana activists recently filed four separate initiatives to put marijuana reform on the state’s 2022 ballot, a move that comes as other advocacy groups are preparing separate efforts to collect signatures for cannabis ballot petitions of their own. Meanwhile, still other activists are focusing on getting the legislature to pass a resolution to place the question of legalization before voters next year.
One group, Fair Access Missouri, is exploring multiple citizen initiatives with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot next year. Three of the four would create a system of legalized cannabis sales for adults 21 and older, while another would simply amend the state’s existing medical marijuana program.
“We’ve seen across the country that smart rules and an open market are the way to go when legalizing cannabis, and that’s what we’ll be bringing to Missouri,” the organization said in a statement last week.
While the group is pushing four separate measures, there’s overlap among their provisions and it’s likely that advocates at this stage are putting out feelers to see which may have the greatest potential to pass if put to a vote.
Aside from recreational marijuana legalization, three of the new initiatives would amend the state’s medical cannabis program. Among other changes, they would remove licensing caps, repeal the application scoring system, reduce patient fees, allow patients to access a one-year supply instead of 90 days, allow nurses and psychologists to make medical marijuana recommendations, eliminate some restrictions on market participation eligibility for people with prior cannabis convictions, increase the number of patients that a given caregiver can serve and revise the definition of hemp.
But the group is also eyeing broader reform, and three of Fair Access Missouri’s initiatives would accomplish that by implementing a regulated adult-use marijuana market.
The purpose of the measures is to “permit the safe and legal use of cannabis by adults over the age of 21 and to responsibly regulate the cultivation, processing, manufacturing, and distribution of cannabis,” the text states. “The people of Missouri have a right to enjoy the benefits of their labor free from unreasonable regulation.”
Today we filed petitions to continue our fight for an adult-use open market with — low taxes and low barriers for entrepreneurs. Find out more and join us >> https://t.co/oINC2GJjkU #FairAccess pic.twitter.com/J6vlpr66iT
— FairAccessMO (@FairAccessMO) July 12, 2021
Free Access Missouri, which has ties to the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA), does seem to be living up to its name based on the measures, which contain provisions that appear to specifically promote industry participation by proposing a system without licensing limits.
With respect to the adult-use legalization measures, differences between them largely come down to brevity and cannabis tax revenue allocation.
Shared provisions include allowing adults to possess up to eight ounces of cannabis and cultivate “up to 25 square feet of flowering canopy of cannabis.”
Regulators would have to promulgate rules to issue cannabis licenses by June 30, 2023, otherwise the industry rules would default to being the same as those for alcohol manufacturing and sales.
There would be no local-opt out provision to fully ban marijuana businesses from operating in a given area in two of the measures. However, local governments would be able to pass ordinances governing time of operation and locations.
One of the initiatives, which is far shorter than the others and doesn’t contain the medical cannabis amendments language that’s in the other three measures, leaves the issue of local control more open, stipulating that jurisdictions must simply “develop and adopt ordinances and policies related to cannabis licensees no later than June 30, 2023.”
Local ordinances could not “create an undue burden on access to consumers,” however. Presumably a blanket ban on retailers could fit the definition of an “undue burden,” but the text of the short measure doesn’t explicitly prohibit that action.
People with marijuana convictions—except for certain felonies or distribution to a person under 17—could petition for a “release from custody and expungement of their criminal record.” These petitions would need to be expedited and granted unless the individual has additional crimes.
Among the two lengthy recreational measures, one would split cannabis tax revenue between the general fund and nonprofits that help people expunge past records, while the other would earmark the funds for a broader range of services, including expanding internet access, improving roads, repairing utilities, substance misuse prevention and treatment, marijuana research, job training for formerly incarcerated people and small business loans and grants for marginalized people.
Eric McSwain, president of Fair Access Missouri, told MO Greenway that a primary goal of the group’s push is to “actually make the medical program better.”
“We’ve seen that mistake in other states where adult use comes around and all of a sudden the medical program suffers or is made to suffer by additional policies,” he said. “We want to avoid that.”
“We want to create a more open market. Where our normal market forces can sort of blend in and do their work in order to set prices, supply, demand, all those sorts of things,” he continued. “We think that’s to the benefit of consumers, patients first, and also adult use consumers—because they’re going to see that competition is going to force higher quality at lower prices.”
Some activists feel that the group’s initiatives don’t quite meet the mark, particularly as it concerns restrictions embedded in the language.
The pro-legalization Crossing Paths PAC, for example, said the limits on personal possession and home cultivation in Fair Access Missouri’s measures would actually create a burden for law enforcement. The group said “continuing to mandate personal possession or homegrow limits would waste law enforcement resources, as police would still have to make a determination of what lawful possession is.”
Further, it expressed concerns about the lack of a distinction between different forms of THC. “We’d welcome the chance to engage with Fair Access or any other group that is unhappy with the significant problems stemming from” the current medical cannabis system, it said.
Fair Access Missouri’s initiatives are also a focus of a MCIA ballot initiative workshop that’s taking place this weekend.
This group isn’t alone in working to put legalization on the 2022 ballot. New Approach Missouri, which successfully got a medical cannabis initiative passed by voters in 2018, is also planning to file a broader reform initiative in the coming days through its campaign committee Legal Missouri 2022,. Details of the proposal have yet to be released, however.
“Our coalition looks forward to putting a cannabis legalization and expungement initiative on the 2022 ballot,” John Payne, campaign director of New Approach Missouri, told Marijuana Moment on Friday. “We are fortunate to live in a state where the citizens have the right to change our laws through the initiative petition process.”
“But that process is an arduous one, which is why of the hundreds of petitions filed every election cycle, only a handful typically reach the ballot, and even fewer are passed into law,” he said. “Our coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, and criminal justice reform advocates looks forward to placing this important issue before voters in 2022 and winning their support, much like we were able to do in 2018 with medical marijuana. We wish others luck as well.”
The organization tried to place the issue of legalization before voters last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that effort.
Despite the health crisis, activists managed to collect 80,000 raw signatures within months, though they needed 160,199 valid signatures to qualify.
For 2022, proposals to amend the state Constitution will need 171,592 valid signatures from registered voters.
Meanwhile, some advocates want the legislature to take the lead on reform. And Rep. Shamed Dogan (R), who filed a resolution last year to ask voters about legalization on the ballot and compel lawmakers to develop a legal system if approved, is expected to make another push for similar legislation early next year after the prior effort failed to advance this session.
It should be noted that there’s yet another group pushing to put a marijuana initiative on the ballot next year—but one that doesn’t currently having the backing of major trade or advocacy groups. It would similarly legalize cannabis for adult use.
Missouri is just one state where activists are working to qualify marijuana reform for 2022 ballots around the country.
Nebraska marijuana activists have announced plans for a “mass scale” campaign to put medical cannabis legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.
Two measures were submitted in Wyoming last month to place medical cannabis legalization and adult-use decriminalization measures before voters in 2022.
This month, Idaho activists filed a revised measure to legalize marijuana possession for adults that they hope to place before voters on the 2022 ballot. That’s in addition to a separate medical cannabis effort in the state.
In South Dakota, activists this month filed four separate cannabis ballot measures for 2022.
North Dakota activists are formulating plans for a marijuana legalization measure after lawmakers failed to enact the reform this session.
Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court has blocked two cannabis legalization initiatives for which activists had already collected thousands of signatures.
Locally, a newly established Texas progressive group unveiled a campaign last month to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession and ban no-knock warrants on this November’s ballot in Austin.
Ohio activists also recently qualified a measure to decriminalize cannabis to appear on a local 2021 ballot—the first of dozens of reform proposals that could go before voters this year as signature gathering efforts continue across the state. The group is also working to put marijuana initiatives on local ballots in South Carolina and West Virginia.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.