Missouri Voters Say ‘Yes’ to Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization

The state’s voters approved Amendment 3 with a 53% majority, paving way for automatic expungement and commercial sales as early as mid-2023.


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Amendment 3         Votes Counted         Percent

Yes         

1,089,01753.1%
No         962,23046.9%
Total Votes         2,051,247100% Precincts Reported
Source: enr.sos.mo.gov | LAST UPDATED: 1:35 P.M. CT Nov. 13, 2022

 

Adult-use cannabis will be legal in Missouri.

Despite Amendment 3 facing myriad opposition in the leadup to Election Day, voters from the Show-Me State approved the initiated measure by a 53.1% to 46.9% margin with more than 99% of precincts reported as of 12:35 a.m. CT Nov. 9, according to unofficial election results from the Missouri Secretary of State's office.

Backed by political action committee Legal Missouri 2022 (LM22), the constitutional amendment will allow Missourians 21 and older to possess and purchase up to 3 ounces of cannabis flower or an equivalent amount in other forms; automatically expunge records for individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses; establish a lottery to randomly select new businesses for adult-use licenses; and levy a 6% tax on sales, among other provisions.

In addition, adults 21 and older will be allowed to home cultivate up to six mature cannabis plants after obtaining a noncommercial registration card (with no more than 12 mature cannabis plants per residence).

Currently, possessing more than 35 grams (roughly 1.2 ounces) is a felony offense punishable by up to seven years of incarceration and a $10,000 fine, according to reform group NORML.

LM22 Campaign Manager John Payne, who also managed the successful 2018 ballot campaign to legalize medical cannabis in Missouri, called Amendment 3’s passage a win for Missourians and said in a statement to Cannabis Business Times that he wanted to personally thank the army of volunteers and supporters who helped motor the reform.

“This enormous step forward for criminal justice reform will result in hundreds of thousands of Missourians having their records cleared, at no cost to them, for an activity that is now legal,” Payne said. “Today’s vote immediately puts an end to nearly 20,000 arrests each year for minor marijuana violations, freeing up vital law enforcement resources to fight serious and violent crime.”

With Amendment 3 passing, Missouri will follow in the footsteps of 19 other states and Washington, D.C., in expanding to adult-use legalization, including Midwest neighbors Illinois and Michigan. Twelve of those predecessors legalized through ballot measures, while the other seven enacted reform legislatively.

In Missouri, Amendment 3 directs the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to regulate and oversee the adult-use cannabis market, including the licensing of cultivators, manufacturers, dispensaries and microbusiness facilities. Department officials will also promulgate regulations for testing, packaging and labeling.

Through a licensed retail program in Missouri, adult-use cannabis sales will generate an estimated annual state revenue of more than $40 million, according to the 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 addiction treatment and Missouri’s public defender system.

“Missouri will see millions in new revenue pour in each year for veterans’ health care, drug treatment, and our severely underfunded public defender’s office,” Payne said.

In addition, the amendment provides municipalities the option of limiting or banning adult-use cannabis sales within their jurisdictions if approved by voters in a local referendum. It also allows local governments to assess local sales taxes of up to 3% on adult-use sales, which are projected to generate another nearly $14 million in revenue at the municipal level.

“This is a historic day for our home state of Missouri,” Greenlight CEO John Mueller told CBT. A multistate operator, Greenlight, which Mueller founded with his brother, Jim, after Missourians legalized medical cannabis in 2018, now has 15 dispensaries across the state and about 150,000 square feet of cultivation and manufacturing space with another 100,000 square feet contracted.

RELATED: Greenlight CEO Dives Into Midwest Mission in Missouri

“Adult-use cannabis has enjoyed bipartisan support and this initiative will not only provide a thriving, safe and legal market for cannabis, but also work to curb the illicit market in the state,” Mueller said. “Missouri is poised to become a tentpole for the industry in the Midwest, and we believe Missouri will be an $800 million to $1 billion market that will add over 5,000 new jobs in Missouri and roughly $50 [million] to $80 million in new tax revenue for the state.”

Mueller previously told CBT that Amendment 3’s endorsements from NORML, NAACP chapters in Columbia and St. Louis (city and county), and “basically everybody that owns and operates a license today” was a winning combination. LM22 also received support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and several other organizations.

"Missourians have clearly demonstrated that support for ending prohibition isn't relegated to the coasts or deep blue states, but that it is a common sense position that resonates with all Americans," NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a public statement. "With the approval of Amendment 3, Missouri voters rejected the failed ideas of the past and elected to chart a new path oriented on justice and sound public policy."

But the measure’s backers faced criticism from prohibitionists and reform advocates alike, notably Jefferson City, Mo., resident Joy Sweeney, who serves on the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. Sweeney filed a lawsuit Aug. 19 in an attempt to remove the measure from the state ballot, arguing LM22 did not gather enough valid signatures and the group’s initiative deals with too many policy changes in violation of state law. Missouri’s Supreme Court justices denied taking on the case.

Cleared for the ballot, the initiative came after recent failed attempts to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state Legislature, including a 2022 push by state Rep. Ron Hicks, R-St. Charles, who introduced the Cannabis Freedom Act in February. That legislation, which was cleared for a full vote in the House, was later held up by Majority Leader Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, over the absence of licensing caps.

Before the bill was killed, Christina Thompson, of advocacy group ShowMe Canna-Freedom, testified before the House Public Safety Committee, urging legislative action on legalization over LM22’s initiative, which was in the signature-gathering phase at the time.

“This is the same group that designed the broken medical marijuana program, and they want to write another violent and subversive business monopoly into our state Constitution,” Thompson said in March. “I say monopoly because this initiative eliminates nearly all competition through constitutionally protected license caps.”

LM22 received nearly $7 million in cash contributions in support of its ballot effort, including $765,000 from BD Health Ventures LLC, $547,500 from New Growth Horizon LLC, $450,000 from Good Day Farm Missouri LLC, $305,000 from Organic Remedies MO Inc. and $250,000 from Green Four Ventures LLC, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission’s most recent report.

While there were roughly 20 donors who contributed $100,000 or more to the campaign, Amendment 3 will prevent any single business owner from possessing more than 10% of the total operating licenses for dispensaries, cultivation and infused-product manufacturing facilities, according to language from the petition.

Much of the opposition to Amendment 3 leading up to Election Day stemmed from the measure’s licensing structure with claims that the initiative will give licensing priority to existing medical cannabis businesses. Upon the effective date of the adult-use portion of the amendment (Dec. 8, 2022), an existing medical facility licensee may request its license be converted to a “comprehensive facility” license to participate in the expanded market. Conversion requests not processed within 60 days will be deemed approved.

Missouri’s medical cannabis program, which 65.6% of voters supported in 2018, includes 50 cultivation licenses, 193 retailer licenses and 77 infused-product manufacturing facility licenses that are currently approved for operations, according to October data from DHSS. There are roughly 205,000 registered patients in the state as of last month.

While existing medical operators will be the first to serve an expanded adult-use market in Missouri, much like with program rollouts elsewhere, a new category of cannabis licenses are reserved for small businesses under Amendment 3. Over time, Missouri’s adult-use market will add a minimum of 144 licensed facilities equally distributed among eight congressional districts. At least six of those new businesses in each district must operate as dispensaries, while the remainder will be designated as wholesale facilities, allowing operators to both cultivate and manufacture cannabis products.

The new group of businesses, which DHSS officials are required to start issuing licenses for no later than October 2023, have to meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • Have a net worth of less than $250,000 and income below 250% of the federal poverty level for at least three of the previous 10 years;
  • Have a valid service-connected disability card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • Have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted of a nonviolent cannabis offense, or be the parent, guardian or spouse of such a person;
  • Live in a ZIP code or census tract with high poverty, unemployment or cannabis imprisonment rates; or
  • Graduated from an unaccredited school district, or live in a ZIP code with such a district for at least three of the past five years.

Among the five states with 2022 adult-use cannabis measures—also including Arkansas, Maryland, North Dakota and South Dakota—Missouri’s existing medical cannabis program lends itself to a quick transition to an expanded market, Madeline Scanlon, insights analyst for cannabis industry research firm Brightfield Group, told CBT prior to Election Day.

“[Missouri is] probably going to be, out of these markets, bringing in the most money the quickest because they obviously have the appetite, [and] they obviously have the infrastructure,” Scanlon said.

In addition to creating the framework for an adult-use market, Amendment 3 adds changes to Missouri’s existing medical cannabis law by:

  • Allowing nurse practitioners to issue medical cannabis recommendations to patients;
  • Extending the amount of time that medical cannabis patient and caregiver ID cards are valid, from one year to three years, while keeping that cost at $25;
  • Reducing the current $100 fee in half for Missourians who choose to grow medical cannabis at home, with the expiration period also extended to three years;
  • Protecting patients from loss of parental rights, employment discrimination and “unduly burdensome” administrative penalties; and
  • Extending reciprocity to out-of-state residents with valid medical cannabis cards.

“It is an exciting time for the people of Missouri as their state legalizes adult-use cannabis,”Jeffrey M. Zucker, vice chair of Marijuana Policy Project’s board of directors and president of Green Lion Partners, said in a public statement provided to CBT. “I am in awe of the hard work that cannabis activists have done in Missouri, and I look forward to seeing how both established medical marijuana dispensaries and new players in Missouri’s regulated cannabis industry grow and begin to thrive over the coming months.”

With LM22 advocates first filing their petition in August 2021, Payne called Amendment 3’s passage “a long time coming,” and, he added, “we live in a better state for it.”

More Industry Reaction

“This is truly a historic occasion. This means that the great majority of the 20,000 people who have been arrested year after year in Missouri will no longer be subject to criminal prosecution for victimless marijuana law violations.” Dan Viets, co-author of Amendment 3, Missouri NORML coordinator and chair of the Amendment 3 advisory board, said in a statement.

“In what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Missouri voters made history in this election by approving recreational sales of cannabis in a way that helps to fund critical needs of Missouri while addressing some of the injustices of the failed war on drugs. We look forward to working with the state to get recreational sales underway, and we are excited by the opportunities to hire more Missourians and increase our engagement with community organizations across the state as BeLeaf expands its operations,” BeLeaf Medical and Swade Medical Dispensaries CEO Jason Nelson said in a statement.

“We applaud the decision by Missouri voters to enhance the lives of residents by approving the sale of recreational cannabis to adults. Not only will the passage of Amendment 3 help raise millions of revenue for critical veteran and mental health services, but Missouri residents with low-level cannabis offenses will be able to expunge these convictions from their record, finally addressing the inequities of the war on drugs. Wana Brands looks forward to working with our Missouri manufacturing partner, Clovr Cannabis, to help meet the increased demand a recreational market will create,” Wana Brands CEO Nancy Whiteman said in a statement.

“A growing number of voters recognize that cannabis policy reform is in the best interest of public health and safety, criminal justice reform, social equity, and personal freedom. State-level legalization victories are what’s necessary to move the needle forward at the federal level. That is how we build cannabis champions in Congress who are committed to taking meaningful action to put an end to prohibition once and for all,” Marijuana Policy Project President and CEO Toi Hutchinson said in a statement.

“With voters approving recreational cannabis ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri, nearly half of all Americans now live in states where cannabis is legal. It’s time for our federal cannabis laws to reflect the will of the people. We call on the Senate to take up the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act as soon as possible to help entrepreneurs in these states and around the country enter and grow the burgeoning cannabis industry,” US Cannabis Council CEO Khadijah Tribble said in a statement.

“Voters in both red and blue America agree that it’s time to enact sensible cannabis laws that replace prohibition with regulations that protect public health and safety while fostering a vibrant small business sector that can create jobs and new tax revenue for their communities. With nearly half of Americans now living in a state with legal cannabis, it’s long past time to harmonize federal law with the growing number of popular state cannabis programs across the country. The first step toward realizing that goal would be to enact the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act,” National Cannabis Industry Association co-founder and CEO Aaron Smith said in a statement.

Editor’s note: Associate Editor Andriana Ruscitto contributed to this article.

     

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