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Pot proposals demonstrate what it can take for an initiative petition effort to succeed in Missouri

sign for medical marijuana
Wikimedia Commons

Voter ID, a state House with fewer members, minimum wage. These are all initiative-petition proposals looking to get on the 2016 ballot. And it's already make-or-break time in Missouri.

For those initiatives that will be successful, strategy is everything.

Case in point: A pro-marijuana coalition called “New Approach for Missouri’’ filed its latest initiative-petition approach this week to get a proposed constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot to legalize pot for medical use.

The new proposed initiative petition would replace a broader-based initiative proposal – already approved by the secretary of state for signature collection – that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use as well.

John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis – a key member of the coalition – said the group is killing off its broader proposal because polling showed that it could be tough to get voters to approve a blanket legalize-marijuana measure.

But coalition consultant Jack Cardetti, who’s running its campaign, said polls -- and election results -- indicate Missouri voters are likely to overwhelmingly support legalizing medical use of pot.

Twenty-three states, including Illinois, already have legalized medicinal use of marijuana. A 24th may be added on Tuesday, when Ohio voters go to the polls.

Payne said the New Approach for Missouri coalition’s message will be simple: “It’s what’s good for patients in the state of Missouri, to be able to access medicine that’s helpful to them without being treated like criminals.”

Among other things, the proposal would allow patients or caregivers to grow a limited number of their own plants, as long they register their pot-growing with the state Department of Health.

Initiatives take time – and money

In any case, tons of work remains before any version of the coalition’s proposal has any chance of appearing on next year’s ballots.

“We have filed multiple petitions and we may file more as we get feedback and we add coalition partners,” Cardetti said. “Politics is a team sport and the campaigns that win are usually the ones that broaden their coalition and bring more people under the tent.”

The goal, Cardetti said, is to have a final version approved by the secretary of state in time to begin collecting signatures in January or February. The deadline for turning in initiative-petition signatures is 5 p.m. May 8.

Such care reflects, in part, the expense of an initiative-petition drive. Payne says the coalition expects it will need close to $1.25 million, with much of that money going to a professional firm to oversee collection of the roughly 160,000 signatures needed to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association (left), and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay sign petitions to let voters decide whether St. Louis should control its own police department.
Credit Joseph Leahy | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo
Gathering enough valid signatures to get an initiative petition on the ballot requires a sustained, coordinated effort.

The coalition's latest campaign-finance report showed it with just over $28,000 in the bank. But Payne says more money is in the wings. “I think we have a solid financial plan to get us there.”

The coalition also may need to grapple with a rival initiative-petition proposal, filed by Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Brad Bradshaw, a Springfield, Mo., lawyer.

Bradshaw's medical marijuana initiative-petition proposal is dramatically different: It would impose high taxes on medical marijuana, and it wouldn’t allow patients or caregivers to grow their own pot.

Bradshaw says he may use some of his own money for the signature-collection process, but he is banking on others to chip in as well.

Jay Ashcroft, a Republican running for Missouri secretary of state, has said he’s counting on volunteers to help him collect the signatures he’ll need for his proposed constitutional amendment to allow state officials to require voters to show a photo-ID before casting a ballot. So far, he appears to have spent little.

Most petitions die

Whether signature-gatherers are paid or volunteers, most don’t succeed.

In 2014, 129 initiative petitions were submitted to the secretary of state’s office, and 65 won approval for circulation.

When the dust settled, only one made the 2014 ballot. All the other ballot measures before voters that year came from the Missouri General Assembly.

So far for 2016, 130 initiative-petition proposals have been submitted, said secretary of state spokeswoman Stephanie Fleming. At least 55 of them have been approved for circulation.

But as in the marijuana example, many of the 2016 initiative proposals are duplicates. Backers of a minimum wage hike, have 10 different initiative petition proposals that have been approved for circulation. A coalition spokeswoman said they’ve yet to decide which one will hit the streets.

At least nine different initiative proposals call for changes in ethics rules governing the General Assembly, and some seek to redraw the districts.

There’s also several different initiative petitions that call for shrinking the size of the Missouri House.

Cardetti with the pro-marijuana coalition, offers a simple explanation for all the duplications: “It’s always nice in campaigns to have options.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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