Criminal justice reform a centerpiece of new Missouri legal cannabis campaign
With voter approval, state would become 20th to authorize adult cannabis use
Three years after Missourians overwhelmingly agreed to enshrine the use and sale of medical cannabis in the state Constitution, a new campaign wants to give voters the opportunity to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2022.
A citizens’ ballot initiative filed today by Legal Missouri 2022, a statewide coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, cannabis patients and criminal justice reform advocates, also aims to provide a fresh start to tens of thousands of state residents whose criminal records would be wiped clean of low-level marijuana offenses.
“There’s widespread support among Missouri voters to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana,” said John Payne, Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager. “The status quo has allowed an unsafe, illegal market to thrive in Missouri, while preventing law enforcement from truly prioritizing the fight against violent crime.”
“Now is the time for Missouri to join the 19 other states to have successfully regulated and taxed adult use marijuana, bringing millions in new funding for vital state services.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would allow Missourians ages 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase and cultivate marijuana. A 6 percent retail sales tax would generate tens of millions of dollars in new state revenue annually.
That money, in turn, would be set aside for veterans’ healthcare, drug addiction treatment and the state’s severely underfunded public defender system.
The automatic expungement provision — which doesn’t apply to violent offenders or those whose offenses involved distribution to a minor or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana — would not require Missourians to petition the court for such a change.
Among the 37 states that have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 to authorize adult use, just seven have such a process.
“Missouri shouldn’t legalize marijuana without automatically expunging thousands of criminal records for marijuana offenses that will soon be legal,” said John Bowman, president of the St. Louis County NAACP. “We enthusiastically support this ballot initiative, which will be the single largest criminal justice reform undertaken in Missouri and long overdue.”
The state Department of Health and Senior Services has issued more than 136,000 medical cannabis cards to Missouri patients and caregivers, a participation rate significantly higher than early estimates. The state tallied more than $90 million in medical cannabis sales from late October 2020, when sales began, through July.
As of January 2017, the Missouri Highway Patrol reported nearly 100,000 marijuana-related arrest charges in the state’s criminal justice database. In 2018 alone, almost 21,000 marijuana-related arrests were made in the state, most for possession of small amounts.
A 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Blacks are 2.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Missouri, even with comparable national usage rates. In three counties (Johnson, Lafayette and Lincoln), Black people were more than 10 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts.
From 2010 through 2018, marijuana possession arrests accounted for 50 percent of all drug arrests in Missouri, placing the state just outside the nation’s Top 10 for the highest cannabis possession arrest rates.
“We are very proud of the strong patient, consumer, and community protections included in the petition,” said Jamie Kacz, executive director of NORML KC. “Cannabis reform is about more than establishing a safe and legal market. It is about righting the many wrongs prohibition has caused to our communities, especially to communities of color.”
The Legal Missouri 2022 initiative also seeks to broaden participation in the burgeoning legal cannabis industry by small business owners and among historically disadvantaged populations, including those with limited capital, residents of high-poverty communities, service-disabled veterans and those previously convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses, among other categories.
A new category of cannabis licenses reserved for small businesses would, over time, add a minimum of 144 licensed facilities to the existing 378 licensed and certified cannabis businesses in the state: 18 in each of the state’s eight congressional districts, with at least six per district operating as dispensaries and the remainder designated as wholesale facilities, a new category that allows operators to both cultivate the plant and manufacture cannabis products.
The new license holders would be selected at random, by lottery.
“Opening up the medical cannabis industry to more women, veterans, people of color, drug war casualties, those with disabilities, and residents of job-starved neighborhoods is long overdue,” said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St Louis City NAACP. “Increasing social equity in this sector is right for Missouri, just as it’s right for the rest of our country.”
The initiative petition was filed earlier this morning with the Missouri Secretary of State in Jefferson City. A copy of the petition can be found here.
Once the petition language is approved by the state, organizers expect to begin collecting the estimated 175,000 voter signatures needed to qualify for the November 2022 ballot this fall, continuing into the new year.
- Allows Missourians 21 years and older to possess, purchase, consume and cultivate marijuana.
- Levies state taxes of 6 percent on retail sales of marijuana. New revenue funds regulatory program and costs to process automatic expungements, with the surplus split equally between veterans’ healthcare, drug addiction treatment, and Missouri’s underfunded public defender system.
- Allows local governments to assess local sales taxes of up to 3 percent.
- Additional state and local tax revenue will generate tens of millions of dollars annually.
- Allows Missourians with nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to automatically expunge their criminal records. Most similar programs in other states require those seeking to vacate their convictions to first petition the courts, adding time and expenses.
- Violent offenders and those whose offenses involved distribution to a minor or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana would be ineligible for expungement.
- Allows local communities to opt-out of adult-use retail marijuana sales through a vote of the people.
- Builds on success of Missouri’s medical cannabis program, which in August 2021 had registered more than 135,000 patients and caregivers, far surpassing initial estimates. The state has tallied more than $90 million in medical cannabis sales from late October 2020, when dispensaries first opened, through July of this year.
- Seeks to broaden participation in the legal cannabis industry by small business owners and among historically disadvantaged populations, including those with limited capital, residents of high-poverty communities, service-disabled veterans and those previously convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses.
- This new category of business license holders would have to meet at least one of the following requirements:
- Have a net worth of less than $250,000 and income below 250 percent of the federal poverty level for at least 3 of the previous 10 years;
- Have a valid service-connected disability card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs;
- Have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted of a non-violent marijuana offense, or be the parent, guardian or spouse of such a person;
- Live in a ZIP code or Census tract with high poverty, unemployment, marijuana imprisonment rates;
- Graduated from an unaccredited school district,
- or lives in a ZIP code with such a district for at least three of the past five years.
- Adds a minimum of 144 of these new small businesses to the existing 378 licensed and
- To ensure statewide access, 18 of these new businesses will be added in each of the state’s eight congressional districts over time. At least six of those new businesses in each district must operate as dispensaries. The remainder will be designated as wholesale facilities, a new category that allows operators to both cultivate the plant and manufacture cannabis products such as edibles, vape cartridges, topicals and concentrates.
- Existing license holders would have the opportunity to quickly convert their medical-only facilities to businesses serving both medical patients and adult consumers, which will immediately reduce sales on the illicit market.
- All new license holders will be selected at random, by lottery.
- Adds nurse practitioners to the category of healthcare professionals who can issue medical cannabis recommendations to patients.