FAQ: What to know about Missouri's recreational marijuana amendment and why it matters
Four years after a successful public initiative to legalize medical marijuana and two years after sales began across Missouri, voters will weigh in again — this time on the recreational use of marijuana.
The effort, initiated by a group called Legal Missouri 2022, is backed by the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, the ACLU of Missouri, all six active chapters of Missouri NORML and the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Gov. Mike Parson and various business groups oppose the proposal.
How did the initiative get on the ballot in the first place?
To get the 39-page measure on the Nov. 8 ballot, Legal Missouri 2022 garnered more than 200,000 verified signatures across the state, surpassing the 184,720 minimum needed.
To get state approval, the measure also needed to obtain minimum signatures in six of the state's eight congressional districts. In late July, the campaign appeared to have fallen short of that threshold, but the campaign rallied and on Aug. 9, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced the petition would be on the ballot.
“I encourage Missourians to study and educate themselves on any ballot initiative,” Ashcroft said in a news release at the time. “Initiative 2022-059 that voters will see on the November ballot is particularly lengthy and should be given careful consideration.”
John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, said the effort to get the measure on the ballot began in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put it on the back burner.
With public perceptions about marijuana shifting, Payne said now was as good a time as any to renew the push to legalize recreational marijuana.
“There's never the wrong time to do the right thing,” he said. “We were seeing the same levels of support on this roughly that we saw on medical (marijuana) back in 2018.”
In November 2018, Missouri voters approved a medical marijuana initiative. Sales commenced in October 2020.
A poll of nearly 2,000 registered voters by SurveyUSA showed 62% of Missourians support marijuana legislation for adult use, compared with 26% who believed it should remain illegal. Forty seven percent of those who identified as Republicans said they supported ending marijuana prohibition.
What will the ballot initiative do?
Simply put, the measure will remove prohibitions on purchasing, possessing, consuming, using, delivering, manufacturing and selling marijuana for personal use by any adult over the age of 21.
The petition outlines a system to grant 144 additional licenses for “microbusiness facilities,” comprised of six dispensaries and 12 wholesale facilities in each of the state’s congressional districts. New licenses will be selected through a lottery process and licensees may manufacture and cultivate marijuana products.
Medical licenses for residents would be valid for three years at a time instead of one year and caregivers could provide products to double the number of patients they can provide products to currently. Marijuana purchasers would not be required to live in the state.
A 6% tax on the retail price of marijuana will go toward court costs and legal fees related to expungements for people convicted of certain non-violent marijuana offenses. The remaining revenue will go toward substance misuse treatment programs, veterans’ health care and the state’s public defender system.
The petition says there will be $3.1 million of initial costs for the state and it estimates initial tax and fee revenue of at least $7.9 million. Local governments will incur at least $35,000 in annual costs and annual revenue will exceed $13.8 million, according to the petition.
Local jurisdictions may opt out of cannabis businesses operating in their area if voters approve a ban on a future election ballot.
What would the amendment mean for bordering states?
Of the eight states bordering Missouri, only Illinois has thoroughly legalized recreational marijuana.
Oklahoma and Arkansas have legalized medical marijuana and Nebraska has decriminalized possession of the drug. Tennessee, Kentucky and Iowa allow CBD with trace amounts of THC. Kansas is the only bordering state in which the possession or sale of marijuana remain illegal.
In Kansas, possession of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for first-time offenders.
If Missouri voters approve the ballot measure , dispensaries are likely to experience an influx of Kansas customers. But when they cross back over the border they will be breaking Kansas law.
Kansas legislators considered medical marijuana proposals in 2021 and 2022. Although the House approved a bill allowing medical use, no measure cleared both chambers.
Candice Breshears, a spokesperson for the Kansas Highway Patrol, declined to go into detail about the agency's plans but said it will continue to focus on keeping roads safe.
"The KHP has continued to remain focused on removing impaired drivers from Kansas highways and roadways, all while providing service, courtesy, and protection to the motoring public," Breshears said in an email. "We strive to provide our Troopers and other officers both in and out of State with the most current and reliable methods for removing impaired drivers from our roadways."
According to The Kansas City Star, state law enforcement agencies plan to go after individuals bringing larger amounts over the border for sale to others rather than for their own personal use.
What do critics say?
While public sentiment may be shifting in favor of recreational marijuana, the ballot initiative is not without detractors, even among those who support the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Missouri Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, a Kansas City Democrat, has helped found a group called the Impactful Canna Reform Coalition that aims to persuade Missourians to vote against the amendment. The group questions provisions in the measure calling for fines of up to $100 for smoking marijuana in public and the expungement of criminal records for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
The group is backed by current cannabis businesses which, if the amendment passes, would face additional competition for business.
Mark Powell, a co-founder of the group ShowMe Canna-Freedom, said he was concerned with the cap on licenses. Caps have become a point of controversy in the medical marijuana arena because critics say they encourage monopolies and create the appearance of corruption.
Powell said he was also alarmed by petition language allowing judges to prevent expungements with “good cause for denial.” Other groups, like Missouri Marijuana Legalization Movement, which has more than 60,000 Facebook members, have called the expungement policy “misleading.”
“What's not explained by people that are advocating for [the measure], what does that mean?” Powell said.
Legal Missouri 2022 says endorsements from the ACLU, NORML, Empower Missouri and the NAACP show those concerns are overblown.
“Good cause is something that does have a meaning in law,” Payne, Legal Missouri 2022's campaign manager, said. “If it's an offense involving violence or if it's an offense involving sales to minors or driving under the influence, those things are reasons to deny the expungement.”
Payne said there was little indication judges would be harsh in their assessments of petitions for expungement. But he conceded he can't say for sure how courts will respond.
“A judge is the emperor of his courtroom,” Payne said. “You can appeal but a judge gets to interpret the law.”