Missouri Supreme Court Won’t Poke Nose in Cannabis Ballot Measure
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Missouri Supreme Court Won’t Poke Nose in Cannabis Ballot Measure

Voters will decide a referendum to legalize adult-use cannabis after a prohibitionist group’s failed attempt to remove it from the ballot.

September 14, 2022

Missouri voters will have their say on adult-use cannabis legalization this November after the state’s Supreme Court decided Sept. 13 it won’t interject.

The Missouri Supreme Court’s decision to remain on the sideline comes after Joy Sweeney, a resident of Jefferson City, Mo., who serves on the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, filed a lawsuit Aug. 19 in an attempt to remove the measure from the state ballot. The suit claimed Legal Missouri 2022 (LM22) did not gather enough valid signatures and that the group’s initiative deals with too many policy changes in violation of state law.

The lawsuit was supported by Protect Our Kids, a political action committee (PAC) formed by Luke Niforatos of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a notorious prohibitionist group.

Missouri’s Supreme Court justices denied taking on the case after Cole County Circuit Judge Cotton Walker dismissed Sweeney’s lawsuit, and after the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 12 that Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft correctly certified the initiative petition as sufficient, and correctly directed that the initiative appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. 

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The initiative’s organizers submitted roughly 400,000 signatures for their petition, and state officials certified 214,535 of them—well exceeding the 184,720 valid signatures required to appear on the ballot.

Ashcroft said he was pleased with the court’s decision to keep its hands off the measure and uphold the ballot certification.

“I represent the people of Missouri,” Ashcroft said in a press release. “Regardless of how I personally feel about a ballot measure, my job is to follow the law and that’s what I did.” 

The Supreme Court’s determination came just in time, as Sept. 13 marked the statutory deadline for any changes to the statewide ballot.

That’s a big win for cannabis advocates from LM22—who sponsor the ballot measure (Amendment 3)—in the current landscape of supreme courts in states like Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota deciding in recent years that they were the final gatekeepers on citizen initiatives.

“We are now one step away from passing Amendment 3, which will bring millions in new revenue to Missouri, while allowing law enforcement to concentrate on fighting violent and serious crime,” LM22 Campaign Manager John Payne said in a press release. “Amendment 3 not only will make Missouri the 20th state to legalize marijuana, it does it in the right way by automatically expunging the nonviolent criminal records of hundreds of thousands of Missourians.”

LM22’s proposed constitutional amendment, if passed, not only will allow Missourians 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase and cultivate cannabis, but it will allow individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to petition to be released from incarceration and/or have their records automatically expunged.

The criminal justice reform aspect of the constitutional amendment would make Missouri the first state where voters took such a step, according to LM22. Current Missouri law requires those seeking to vacate their convictions to first petition the courts, an expensive and time-consuming process.

“It’s time to stop treating adults who use marijuana responsibly like criminals,” said Dan Viets, a Columbia attorney, LM22 advisory board chairman and Missouri coordinator for NORML, whose six chapters across the state helped draft and have endorsed the initiative. “It’s also time to repair the damage marijuana prohibition has done to hundreds of thousands of Missourians’ lives by automatically expunging their criminal records.”

In addition, the ballot measure aims to establish a lottery to award licenses distributed equally to congressional districts. A new category of cannabis licenses would be reserved for small businesses, which, over time, would add a minimum of 144 licensed facilities to the existing 393 medical cannabis businesses in the state. Each of the state’s eight congressional districts would include at least six new retail licenses for adult-use cannabis under the new category.

Finally, the proposal would require a registration card for personal cultivation and impose a 6% tax on cannabis sales, among other provisions.

The 6% state sales tax would generate an estimated annual revenue of more than $40 million, according to a state auditor’s projection analysis. That money would cover the costs associated with implementing a state-licensed program as well as automatic expungement, with remaining funds allocated to veterans’ services, drug addictions treatment and Missouri’s public defender system.