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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

The push to legalize marijuana in Missouri begins in earnest

 The Legal Missouri 2022 ballot item is hoping to make marijuana legal for adults who are 21 or older. Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana. Missouri legalized marijuana for medical use in 2018.
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
The Legal Missouri 2022 ballot item is hoping to make marijuana legal for adults who are 21 or older. Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana. Missouri legalized marijuana for medical use in 2018.

Voters could soon decide whether Missouri becomes the latest state to legalize marijuana.

A group known as Legal Missouri 2022 launched its initiative petition campaign on Thursday morning in St. Louis. If the group collects enough signatures and if Missourians approve the measure, anyone 21 or older could purchase marijuana for any reason.

“It is finally time for Missouri to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana,” said John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022.

Payne was involved in the successful 2018 effort to legalize marijuana for medical use, which passed with close to 66 percent of the vote. Assuming that his group gets around 170,000 signatures in six of the state’s eight congressional districts, Payne said the resounding result of the 2018 campaign bodes well for the effort to expand availability of marijuana. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana.

“We believe we have the support now to pass the adult use of marijuana in Missouri,” Payne said.

St. Louis Public Radio

In addition to allowing localities to institute a 3 percent sales tax on the drug, the constitutional amendment would levy a 6 percent tax on retail marijuana sales. After subtracting the cost to administer the state regulatory program, the rest of the money would go for public defenders, veterans’ healthcare, and drug addiction programs.

Besides allowing people to consume, purchase, possess and cultivate marijuana, other aspects of the ballot measure include:

  • Allowing entities that currently have medical marijuana licenses to convert their businesses so they can cater to consumers.
  • Setting up an expungement program for people convicted of certain marijuana-related offenses.
  • Creating a lottery system to select new license holders. It would also add roughly 144 more licenses into the program, with two-thirds of those going to businesses that cultivate and manufacture marijuana and one-third going to dispensaries.
  • Creating a new category of license known as wholesalers who can cultivate and manufacture cannabis products such as edibles, vape cartridges, topicals and concentrates.
  • Expanding the option of nurse practitioners to issue medical marijuana recommendations to patients.

Adolphus Pruitt of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP said the expungement portion of the initiative is especially important to Black Missourians since they’ve been disproportionately affected by criminal marijuana laws.

“It is time that we legalize marijuana across the state and at the same time make sure that the folks who were impacted more than others have the opportunity to have their records expunged automatically,” Pruitt said.

After the passage of the medical marijuana initiative in 2018, some Republican leaders have urged the General Assembly to pass their own overall legalization bill — primarily as a way to have some control over what marijuana legalization would look like.

One of those people is Gov. Mike Parson, who has not been in favor of legalizing marijuana beyond medical usage. He said in an interview earlier this year with St. Louis Public Radio that he would “much rather have the legislators have that discussion out here and see if there is a solution to have one way or the other than doing the ballot initiative.”

“I haven’t changed my opinion on that,” Parson said. “I probably agree with you that if it got on the ballot, it’s probably going to pass. … I think there’s a reason that people get sent up to the legislative branches. You get sent up here to make tough decisions. And when you don’t make decisions, that’s why these ballot initiatives kick in.”

Payne said it is likely “wishful thinking” to believe that the legislature will be more motivated to pass marijuana legalization legislation in 2022. He noted that a proposal from state Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, didn’t get assigned to a committee until the last day of session — a signal that it’s not a priority for legislative leadership.

“I know there are certainly legislators who will support that and work towards it,” Payne said. “But from what I’ve seen with the leadership of the House and the Senate currently, that is unlikely to happen.”

Asked if allowing medical marijuana businesses to expand into the consumer market would give existing businesses a competitive advantage over prospective ones, Payne said this is fairly common in other states.

“That’s to allow for the hastening of the market opening up and ending the illicit market as quickly as possible,” Payne said. “They will be some of the first people who will be able to sell adult use cannabis. But we also added on at least 144 new licenses that are competing with those in the very near future.”

Legal Missouri 2022 isn’t the only ballot item that’s approved for circulation to legalize marijuana. Another proposal, Fair Access Missouri, would have a different regulatory agency oversee the market and allow for unlimited amounts of licenses to be given out.

Whether that proposal can make it to the ballot remains to be seen. Fair Access Missouri only has spent about $25,000 thus far, while Legal Missouri 2022 has spent roughly $280,000. Ballot initiatives typically require millions of dollars to gather signatures and run an effective television campaign.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.