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Recreational marijuana use tops statewide initiatives on Missouri’s ballot

 The city of Belleville is considering a proposal that would allow a cannabis dispensary to open 100 feet from a school.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
The city of Belleville is considering a proposal that would allow a cannabis dispensary to open 100 feet from a school.

On Nov. 8, Missouri voters will make their choices on five statewide ballot measures in addition to picking their preferred candidates.

Of those measures, three were brought to the ballot by the state legislature, one is required by Missouri’s constitution, and the other made it through the state’s initiative petition process.

Most of the attention is on Amendment 3, which if passed would further expand Missouri’s marijuana program to include recreational use.

But some marijuana legalization advocates have multiple reasons as to why they are not in support of the amendment.

“It makes everybody think, ‘OK, this is going to work and we're going to have cannabis, and it's going to be for everybody, let's go.’ And that's not actually the case. And that's a little deceiving,” said state Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, D-Kansas City.

During the past legislative session, Manlove was a co-sponsor of a bill that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana called the Cannabis Freedom Act. The legislation had more than 15 sponsors, Republican and Democratic. It also had the testimony of over 80 people in its favor and fewer than 20 against it.

However, the 76-page bill did not pass, nor did any other legislation that would have legalized recreational marijuana. This means that either voters could choose to pass this amendment or wait to see if the legislature passes a bill in future sessions.

John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, said he believes the legislature should have legalized marijuana already.

“I don't think they're likely to if this does not pass, I don't think it's likely that they're going to come and pass something that's in any way as comprehensive or anything at all, frankly, for the foreseeable future,” Payne said.

Payne said the legalization of marijuana would mean fewer arrests and free up more resources for law enforcement.

However, there are limitations, including how much marijuana someone could possess at one time. For nonmedical marijuana patients, the limit would be 3 ounces, while medical patients would be able to possess up to 6.

Additionally, fines could still be issued for smoking in public.

Eapen Thampy, a lobbyist who is against Amendment 3, said that because of the penalties, it isn’t truly legalizing the use of marijuana.

“You can be fined for public consumption, they create an arbitrary possession limit, they actually create a constitutional misdemeanor if you exceed their possession limit of 3 ounces,” Thampy said. “And they don't remove statutory felony penalties or remove marijuana from the drug schedule. So all these elements are, to me, they're not legalization.”

Payne said other states that have legalized adult-use of marijuana also have possession limits because cannabis is still a federally prohibited substance.

The limits on how much marijuana someone could possess and where they could consume it are just some parts of the amendment that opponents are alerting voters about. Another is the language regarding the expungement of charges.

According to the amendment, someone currently on probation or parole for certain marijuana law violations would see their sentence automatically vacated and later expunged from their record.

Additionally, anyone incarcerated for certain marijuana offenses would be able to petition the court to vacate the sentence, as well as be immediately released from incarceration with their records expunged.

Payne said the expungement provisions in the amendment is a reason why voters should approve it.

“That's going to affect hundreds of thousands of Missourians with nonviolent marijuana offenses, allowing them to have a fresh start,” Payne said.

But Thampy said there are logistical and practical issues with requiring the circuit courts to implement these new expungement measures.

“What happens if we get six months down the road, the circuit courts are in a mess of wading through tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of criminal records. And that's clogging up other more urgent issues in our court system,” Thampy said.

The state judiciary has already included an additional funding request of around $4.5 million to go toward these new requirements for fiscal 2024. Legalizing marijuana is expected to generate millions in tax revenue for the state.

Allowing Missourians to use recreational marijuana is only part of the amendment. It also makes changes to the cannabis industry.

Under the amendment, Payne said, a minimum of 144 new licenses would be issued. But critics say that it’s the existing businesses that already have a license to sell medical marijuana that are going to benefit the most from the new system.

Jason Nelson, CEO of BeLeaf Medical, which already has a medical marijuana business, is in favor of Amendment 3. But he does acknowledge he would benefit from the state expanding marijuana legalization to include recreational use as opposed to others without that existing business model.

“I think those of us who are truly engaged in the space and supporting these types of groups can admit there's more work to be done,” Nelson said.

Nelson said that with recreational marijuana, he can put more back into Missouri.

“I can more robustly invest in community improvement initiatives, I can start to partner with local organizations to begin to go through business incubators and really support some of the outcomes that are prefaced in this amendment,” Nelson said.

Bland Manlove said that because Black and brown people have historically been the most negatively impacted by the war on drugs, any initiative or law that legalizes marijuana should have programs that specifically aid the same populations.

She calls the amendment’s micro-license program, which Payne said gives opportunities to groups that have had prior difficulty breaking into the industry, a “kid’s meal.”

"You have to wait 500 days until after everybody else has gotten their license. And then you have to wait again for a micro grower to harvest because the micro businesses can only interact with other micro businesses,” Bland Manlove said. “So they have to wait for the micro grower to come up so the micro dispensary can have products on the shelf.”

While Legal Missouri 2022 alone has spent millions in its campaign to persuade voters to approve Amendment 3, the amendment’s success isn’t a guarantee.

Recent polls have been mixed. Both Payne and Thampy remain confident their respective side will win on Nov. 8.

Other amendments on the ballot

Amendment 1

Amendment 1 centers around the state’s Treasury Department, asking whether the treasurer’s office should be able to invest in municipal bonds. If passed, it would also allow for the legislature to expand what the treasurer’s office could invest in.

Currently, there are only seven investment types that are permissible for the office. Those include time deposits, U.S. Treasury and federal agency securities and repurchase agreements.

Passage of the amendment would not only allow the treasurer’s office to invest in municipal bonds but also give power to the legislature to expand where statutory changes can be made for allowable investments — without having those decisions go to voters.

Any change would have to be passed by the legislature, approved by the governor and then further approved by the Treasurer’s Office Investment Committee, and then the treasurer.

The legislature can only add investment opportunities. Lawmakers would not be able to take away constitutionally authorized investment options.

Amendment 4

If voters approve Amendment 4, the state would force Kansas City to increase the funding for its police department. The amendment authorizes a law passed by the state legislature this past session raising the minimum amount Kansas City must allocate to its police department through December 2026.

The law increases spending for the police from 20% of general revenue to 25%.

Though it is a statewide vote, the result would only affect Kansas City.

Proponents of the measure say it would better support the city’s police department, while opponents argue it removed Kansas City’s authority and control of its own funding decisions.

Amendment 5

Amendment 5, the last of the legislature-passed amendments, would separate the Missouri National Guard into its own department. Currently, it’s under the state’s Department of Public Safety. According to the ballot language, the department “shall be required to protect the constitutional rights and civil liberties of Missourians.”

Constitutional convention

Voters will also have to decide whether they want the state to assemble a convention to make changes to the state’s constitution.

If passed, the measure would require Gov. Mike Parson to call an election of delegates. Any changes would then be up for a vote for consideration by Missouri voters.

The question of a constitutional convention is required to appear on Missouri’s ballot every 20 years. In 2002, 65% of Missouri residents voted against it.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

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Sarah Kellogg