Joint Committee holds hearing on marijuana legalization measure
On Tuesday, lawmakers met in the Capitol to hear testimony regarding the initiative petition that will lace adult use marijuana legalization before voters in November.
The Joint Committee on Legislative Research, chaired by Senator Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, opened the floor to input from the public during the forum.
Missouri law requires lawmakers to hear public comment before the election date when a ballot question is certified by the secretary state.
For roughly 90 minutes legislators heard testimony from Missouri voters pertaining to the proposed measure.
If Amendment 3 passes marijuana use for adults over age 21 will no longer require a medical certification and will open the doors to out-of-state residents to purchase marijuana legally in Missouri dispensaries.
The passage of the amendment would be a huge boon for existing businesses in the state, while also mandating significant criminal justice reform related to marijuana in the process.
Dan Viets is an attorney with over 35 years in practice, it’s no coincidence that Viets is also the Missouri NORML Coordinator and Advisory Board Chair of Legal Missouri 2022, the campaign behind Amendment 3.
“I went to law school primarily to defend people from marijuana prohibition. For 50 years, as of last month, I’ve been involved in the effort to reform Missouri’s marijuana laws. I believe we have an opportunity with Amendment 3 to do something that is wonderful for the state of Missouri.”
“The single most important thing Amendment 3 does is, it’s going to stop the great majority of the 20,0000 plus arrests that happen every year in the state of Missouri,” Viets continued. “20,000 plus arrests and prosecutions every year places a tremendous burden on our courts, on our law enforcement, on our prosecutors, on our jails, on the probation officers. Resources which are wasted. Resources that don’t need to be expended and which can be better used to combat crimes with victims.”
“One of the most important aspects of Amendment 3 is it will expunge the arrest and conviction records of hundreds of thousands of our fellow Missourians who have been arrested and prosecuted for marijuana,” Viets explained.
Non-violent criminal offenses involving possession of three pounds of marijuana or less, excluding those involving distribution to minors or operating a motor vehicle under the influence, would qualify for automatic expungement under Amendment 3.
“Automatically is a key adverb in this case,” Viets said. “I was privileged to work on our current expungement law through the Missouri bar just a few years ago, it’s pretty broad and encompasses almost every marijuana offense, but only a tiny fraction of the people eligible for that expungement have pursued it, because it is expensive, it’s complicated.”
“It’s a real challenge to get an expungement under Missouri law. Under Amendment 3, these expungements of low-level marijuana possession offenses will proceed automatically without any action needing to be taken by the defendant. That process will be funded by the tax on adult use marijuana sales.”
In addition to automatic expungement, Amendment 3 provides for those who are currently serving probation or parole for marijuana law violations that would be legal to have their sentence automatically vacated and calls for the immediate termination of supervision by the department of corrections.
Social Equity in Licensing
If passed, Amendment 3 will mandate a minimum of 144 new commercial business licenses to be issued. According to John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, these micro licenses are designed to benefit those most affected by marijuana prohibition and the War on Drugs.
The language would require a marijuana microbusiness licensee to be majority owned by individuals who each meet at least one of the following qualifications:
- Have a net worth of less than $250,000 and have had an income below two hundred and fifty percent of the federal poverty level, or successor level, as set forth in the applicable calendar year’s federal poverty income guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or its successor agency, for at least three of the ten calendar years prior to applying for a marijuana microbusiness facility license; or
- Have a valid service-connected disability card issued by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, or successor agency; or
- Be a person who has been, or a person whose parent, guardian, or spouse has been arrested for, prosecuted for, or convicted of a non-violent marijuana offense, except for a conviction involving provision of marijuana to a minor, or a conviction of driving under the influence of marijuana. The arrest, charge, or conviction must have occurred at least one year prior to the effective date of this section; or
- Reside in a ZIP code or census track area where:
- (i) Thirty percent or more of the population lives below the federal poverty level; or
- (ii) The rate of unemployment is fifty percent higher than the state average rate of unemployment; or
- (iii) The historic rate of incarceration for marijuana-related offenses is fifty percent higher than the rate for the entire state;
- Graduated from a school district that was unaccredited, or had a similar successor designation, at the time of graduation, or has lived in a zip code containing an unaccredited school district, or similar successor designation, for three of the past five years.
Unlike current licenses, the micro licenses would allow commercial cultivation and production of marijuana and marijuana products under one license. Currently, cultivation and manufacturing operations require separate licenses.
Amendment 3 also reserves 50% of all new comprehensive licenses that become available in the future to be reserved for operators who have successfully run micro license businesses.
Opposition to Amendment 3
The forum was not without opposition to Amendment 3. Two members of the Missouri Hemp Trade Association, Association President Sean Hackmann, and Kevin Halderman, both spoke out against the proposal. Both Hackmann and Halderman urged the preservation of the hemp industry in Missouri and expressed concerns about language in the amendment that they felt would be detrimental to Missouri’s hemp farmers.
The language in question would appear to be in changes to the definition of the word marijuana.
Amendment 3 removes the verbiage, “containing a cropwide average tetrahydrocannabinol concentration that does not exceed three-tenths of one percent on a dry weight basis,, and replaces it with, “as defined by Missouri statute.”
In addition to the Missouri Hemp Trade association members, lobbyist Eapen Thampy and Wright County Circuit Judge Craig Carter both spoke in opposition.
Judge Carter’s testimony appeared to rile some members of the committee as he stated that he,and many of his colleagues, opposed the legalization measure due to language that prevents the use of legal marijuana from being a determining factor in preventing the return of children under court supervision to their parents.
“The concern that I have heard among colleagues is that if the parents were substance abuse addicts at the time that the children were put under court jurisdiction that the parents could merely transfer their use of methamphetamine or use of fentanyl to use of recreational marijuana and this could not found to be a basis to hold parents to a point where they have to get clean of whatever substance abuse issues they have before return of the child.”
Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, seemingly took issue with Carter’s statements. Washington, who is a practicing attorney, stated, “There is nothing in the law or the rules that says that if (the parents) are drinking alcohol that they are prevented from having custody, unless its overboard or something of that nature. Correct? Because right now the way the law is being applied is that if there’s any marijuana use at all, even medical, parents are prevented from having the same rights.”
View the hearing in full here.