Assorted cannabis "flowers." (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Voters will soon get to decide on whether or not to amend the Missouri Constitution —and deal with a whole lineup of marijuana-related laws, including legalizing its recreational usage.

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft approved a petition that gets recreational-use marijuana on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. The petition was submitted by attorney Marc Ellinger and sponsored by the marijuana advocacy group Legal Missouri 2022

The proposed change to the state constitution is designated as Amendment 3. A “yes” vote will support legalization; a “no” vote opposes the change and maintains current law.

The proposed amendment would “remove state prohibitions on purchasing, possessing, consuming, using, delivering, manufacturing and selling marijuana for personal use for adults over the age of 21.” However, that is only one component of what voters will decide on in November. The certificate lists these additional changes if the measure passes:

  • Require a registration card for personal cultivation with prescribed limits
  • Allow persons with certain marijuana-related non-violent offenses to petition for release from incarceration or parole and probation and have records expunged
  • Establish a lottery selection process to award licenses and certificates
  • Issue equally distributed licenses to each Congressional district
  • Impose a 6 percent tax on the retail price of marijuana to benefit various programs

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Legal MO 2022 submitted an application for approval of circulation of the petition in August 2021, and set out to begin collecting the necessary amount of signatures — at least 8 percent of registered voters who participated in the most recent gubernatorial election in six of Missouri’s eight Congressional districts, to be exact. Legal MO 2022 did just that, exceeding the necessary amount of signatures in six of eight districts, falling short in the 4th and the 8th. The 4th District is largely a rural chunk of middle-west Missouri, while the 8th represents the boot heel. In the 7th District, which includes Springfield and Greene County, 31,855 signatures were valid — 1,842 above the required minimum.

In a press release, Ashcroft advised voters to study any ballot initiative carefully, but especially Amendment 3, due to it being “particularly lengthy” at 39 pages.

Lifting these restrictions on adult-use marijuana would come with a hefty price tag for the state at the outset, but estimates of later revenue for Missouri far outweigh the startup costs.

According to a document issued by Ashcroft’s office Tuesday, state government officials estimate initial costs of $3.1 million, initial revenue of at least $7.9 million, and annual revenues of around $40.8 million.

What was the support for getting on the ballot?

John Payne, the campaign manager of Legal MO 2022, previously served in the same role for New Approach Missouri, which underwent the same process to get medical cannabis on the ballot in 2018, where it eventually passed with more than 65 percent of the vote. 

Payne, a Washington University graduate and self-described libertarian, has been a long-time proponent of doing away with “destructive prohibitionist policies.” In school, he served as the treasurer and vice-president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and has since taught high school social studies, worked for the public policy think tank the Show-Me Institute in St. Louis, and jumped on the Show-Me Cannabis 2011 campaign to legalize marijuana, which ultimately failed. 

John Payne

But on the heels of 2018’s victory of the legalization of medical cannabis, Payne felt it was time to try again. With Amendment 3, Missouri has the chance to become the 20th state to legalize recreational marijuana and the first state to automatically expunge certain non-violent marijuana-related offenses.

“It’s hard to get something on the ballot in Missouri,” Payne said. “We had 400 to 500 people collecting signatures every day in April and early May. That’s a small army. To raise the money to do that, to coordinate all that, is a massive effort.”

Payne acknowledged that, even if Amendment 3 passes, it won’t be an easy implementation process but certainly doable and necessary for criminal justice reform, as it relates to expungement. 

“Anytime the law changes you certainly have some growing pains in terms of exactly how those rules will be structured,” Payne said. “We give a fairly good roadmap for the regulators in terms of how the rules should be set up and everything. There’s going to be some gray areas, and you’re going to have to come in and make rules. And some of those will work, some of them won’t; they’ll have to be adjusted. That’s just the natural course of the law changing.”

Gorilla Snacks X Irish Stout indica-hybrid ‘flowers’ from Sinse Cannabis. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Petition was the surest route, advocates say

Among these adjustments is effectively educating the law enforcement community about the change in laws they’ve been enforcing their entire careers. Payne noted that other states have managed to do this successfully and predicted Missouri would follow in their footsteps.

Chip Sheppard, a Springfield-based attorney, helped Payne, along with a handful of other individuals, in crafting the proposed amendment. Sheppard, a long-time advocate for the movement, previously sued the City of Springfield in federal court in 2012 over their attempt to block a ballot initiative that would have decriminalized marijuana locally. He describes the ballot initiative as essentially the only way this could ever pass in Missouri.

Chip Sheppard

“It’s a blessing for the state of Missouri that we have the initiative petition process,” Sheppard said.

“Because the Missouri legislature would never do this. They were talking about doing it this last session, but only because they saw the polling and they knew that we were probably going to get it on the ballot and probably be successful and so they wanted to have their fingerprints on it. Those same people have historically been dead set against it, so the chances of it ever coming out of the legislature were almost nil.”

If the initiative passes, the Legislature may craft related legislation that complies with the new constitutional amendment. 

In their attempt to make the proposed changes to the state constitution, Legal Mo 2022 got past the first couple of hurdles, but the real challenge will come in November. Voters in favor of the changes will choose “yes,” while opponents will choose “no” if they want the laws regarding recreational marijuana and marijuana-related non-violent crimes to remain as they are.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the business and economic development reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and elections for the Citizen. Before that, he worked at documentary film company Carbon Trace Productions and Missouri State University’s student-led newspaper, The Standard. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@sgfcitizen.org or (417) 719-5129. More by Jack McGee