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Legalization of recreational marijuana will be on the Missouri ballot in November

A bed of marijuana plants in a greenhouse environment.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio
A petition to legalize the recreational use of marijuana has gained enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

Updated at 5:17 p.m. Aug. 9 with details of the proposal and comments from a backer and an opponent

Missouri voters will have the ability to legalize recreational marijuana use through a constitutional amendment, now that the petition has gained enough signatures to go on the ballot.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft ruled on two petitions Tuesday. One, dealing with ranked choice voting, did not gain enough signatures, but the petition on recreational marijuana did.

The marijuana petition received the number of needed signatures in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The petition will appear as Amendment 3 on the ballot, and if a majority of Missouri voters approve it, recreational marijuana will be legal in the state.

John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, said the support the petition received to get it on the ballot is good news for its chances in November.

“We think that indicates that there's a strong support among Missouri voters for this. And that's also consistent with the public polling that's out there and our internal polling as well,” Payne said.

Under the petition, marijuana use would be legal for those 21 and older, although there could be limits on how much someone could possess.

Payne said the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would set that possession limit, though it could not be less than 3 ounces.

It also allows people with “certain marijuana-related non-violent offenses to petition for release from incarceration or parole, and probation.”

The upcoming vote comes as the Missouri legislature failed to advance a sweeping marijuana bill that would have legalized recreational use as well as other provisions related to cannabis.

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, sponsored that legislationand is against the initiative petition for multiple reasons.

“All we're doing is creating new criminal penalties for marijuana. We are monopolizing the industry to keep others out, like minorities, for example. There's a small group of people already in the industry, and they're the only ones that are going to be allowed,” Hicks said.

Hicks said a possession limit could pose a problem if the federal government decides to legalize marijuana on a national basis.

“We in the constitution here in Missouri still have penalties for possession of marijuana. We criminalize it still. We’re not helping this state any,” Hicks said.

The representative also has an issue with the limited number of licenses issued to sell marijuana, saying it boxes out people who want to further work within the marijuana industry.

“We have 16,000 alcohol licenses in this state, that's fair. You want to open up a liquor store, you get approval by your city council or whoever and you open up a liquor store. I think it should be the same in this industry,” Hicks said.

Payne said that the upcoming amendment would add 144 licenses and that the department could release more.

Because the proposed amendment would go into effect through the Missouri Constitution, lawmakers would be unable to make any changes through law if issues arise. Instead, those fixes would have to be through another constitutional amendment.

“As it sits right now the [initiative petition] passes, you get what you get, you cannot change it unless you go through an initiative petition process again,” Hicks said.

Since lawmakers have the ability to put issues on the ballot themselves, Payne said that’s an avenue for lawmakers to fix any problems.

“If they want to change something in it, they can refer that to voters, and voters get to decide whether that amendment will be changed or not,” Payne said.

Missourians in 2018 voted to legalize medical marijuana through a different constitutional amendment with almost 66% of the vote. Illinois has medical and recreational marijuana.

Hicks hopes enough voters will read the petition and decide it isn’t what the state needs.

“If we're going to legalize this, let's legalize it through the legislature where there's framework and everybody's involved in it, not large corporations from out of state and not the largest lobbyists in our state,” Hicks said.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

You can read the petition here.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.