Missouri officials on Tuesday announced that an initiative to legalize marijuana will appear on the state’s November ballot.
While early reporting from county officials had signaled that the campaign was coming up short on signatures in key congressional districts, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) has now certified that activists indeed turned in enough valid petitions to place the cannabis reform measure before voters.
“I encourage Missourians to study and educate themselves on any ballot initiative,” Ashcroft said in a press release. “Initiative 2022-059 that voters will see on the November ballot is particularly lengthy and should be given careful consideration.”
Legal Missouri 2022 submitted about 400,000 signatures for a legalization initiative in May. They needed to reach a signature threshold in at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts to make the ballot, and it initially appeared that they were falling behind in two of those districts.
The campaign, for its part, said it had been actively reviewing the results from local officials to check for errors and was confident they would end up qualifying.
“Our statewide coalition of activists, business owners, medical marijuana patients and criminal justice reform advocates has worked tirelessly to reach this point, and deserves all the credit,” John Payne, Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager said in a press release on Tuesday. “Our campaign volunteers collected 100,000 signatures, on top of paid signature collection. That outpouring of grassroots support among Missourians who want to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis made all the difference.”
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“We look forward to engaging with voters across the state in the coming weeks and months,” he said. “Missourians are more than ready to end the senseless and costly prohibition of marijuana.”
Here’s what Legal Missouri 2022’s reform initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis.
They could also grow up to six flowering marijuana plants, six immature plants and six clones if they obtain a registration card.
The initiative would impose a six percent tax on recreational cannabis sales and use revenue to facilitate automatic expungements for people with certain non-violent marijuana offenses on their records.
Remaining revenue would go toward veterans’ healthcare, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.
The Department of Health and Senior Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing licenses for cannabis businesses.
Regulators would be required to issue at least 144 microbusiness licenses through a lottery system, with priority given to low-income applicants and people who have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would also be first in line to start serving adult consumers with dual licenses.
Regulators could create rules around advertising, but they could not be any more stringent than existing restrictions on alcohol marketing.
Public consumption, driving under the influence of cannabis and underage marijuana use would be explicitly prohibited.
A seed-to-sale tracking system would be established for the marijuana market.
Local jurisdictions would be able to opt out of permitting cannabis microbusinesses or retailers from operating in their area if voters approve the ban at the ballot.
The measure would further codify employment protections for medical cannabis patients.
Medical marijuana cards would be valid for three years at a time, instead of one. And caregivers would be able to serve double the number of patients.
A strong majority of Missouri voters, including a plurality of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana for adult use, a recent poll found.
Payne previously led a successful ballot effort to legalize medical cannabis in the Show-Me State in 2018.
Legal Missouri 2022’s initiative is backed by the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association as well as ACLU of Missouri; St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County chapters of the NAACP; all six active chapters of Missouri NORML and Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Meanwhile, some advocates and stakeholders have raised concerns about the ballot proposal and pushed for legislative reform instead, like a legalization bill from Rep. Ron Hicks (R).
That measure moved through the committee process this year, and there were expectations that it would reach the House floor in May, but leadership was unwilling to advance it before the session adjourned.
Supporters of the Hicks bill have argued that the lack of specific language in the initiative prohibiting a licensing cap means the market that emerges will not be competitive. Some have also raised concerns about the measure’s provisions to give medical cannabis dispensaries a head start in serving the adult-use market.
Another Republican lawmaker in the state, Rep. Jason Chipman (R), filed a joint resolution this session that would let voters require additional oversight over how medical cannabis tax revenue is distributed to veterans.
A different campaign, Fair Access Missouri, separately explored multiple citizen initiatives this year with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot, but did not end up submitting signatures for any of the measures.
Here’s the state of play for other drug policy reform ballot measures in 2022:
Arkansas activists have filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court, seeking to secure ballot access for their proposed marijuana legalization initiative. The legal action came after the state Board of Election Commissioners ruled that the measure’s ballot title and popular name are misleading even though the secretary of state verified that collected enough signatures to qualify.
Colorado voters will have the chance to decide on a historic ballot initiative this November to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes.
In May, South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.
Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year, which the governor allowed to go into effect without his signature, that will put the issue of cannabis legalization before voters this November.
North Dakota activists turned in what they believe to be enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative before voters.
Oklahoma activists also said they’ve submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.
Nebraska advocates recently submitted signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way, including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed away and a court battle of the state’s geographic requirements for ballot petitions.
An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced in May. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.
Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.
The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.
While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.
In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin voters in at least half a dozen cities and counties will be asked on November’s ballot whether they support legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. Those advisory questions on legalization will be non-binding, however, intended to take the temperature of voters and send a message to lawmakers about where their constituents stand.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.