Missouri Organizers Begin Signature Drive for Ballot Measure to Legalize Pot

Last week, organizers began a ballot initiative aiming to make Missouri the 19th state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Legal Missouri 2022, the organization leading the measure, hopes to garner enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot in time for next year’s midterm elections. If passed, any adult over the age of 21 will be able to legally purchase cannabis products at designated and licensed dispensaries within the state.

According to reporting from St. Louis Public Radio, organizers will have to gather around 170,000 signatures in total. The rules on initiatives also require that a certain number of signatures be collected in at least six of the state’s eight congressional districts before a deadline in May.

If the proposal is included on the ballot for voters to decide on, it’s likely that the measure could pass and become law. Missouri is a deeply conservative state; voters backed former President Donald Trump by more than 15 points over Joe Biden in the 2020 election. But a similar ballot initiative, legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis, passed with the support of 66 percent of voters in 2018.

If passed, the initiative’s impact would go beyond simply making the consumption of marijuana legal. It would also limit the current existing restrictions on people with felony convictions, in some circumstances allowing them to own and manage dispensaries. The initiative would additionally create a program to automatically expunge nonviolent marijuana-related convictions.

The initiative adds roughly 144 commercial cannabis licenses to the state program. Only one-third of those new licenses would be granted to retail businesses selling the drug. Businesses with existing medical marijuana licenses would have the option of converting to serve recreational consumers.

The initiative would also expand rights that are currently in place for medicinal purposes. If passed, individuals would be able to receive recommendations for medical marajuana from nurse practitioners, instead of just physicians. As a result of that change, patients may be able to save $100 or more in costs associated with getting medicinal permission to use cannabis.

Keeping the medicinal law in place is still necessary, activists have noted, as it allows patients to obtain a higher dosage if needed for their treatment.

Though the ballot initiative faces positive odds of becoming law, some lawmakers want legalization efforts to go through the legislature instead. Gov. Mike Parson (R) has noted that if the legalization initiative is included on the ballot, it is “probably going to pass.” But he’s expressed a preference for the law being passed in a typical manner, to avoid regulatory problems that came about after the 2018 medical marijuana initiative was successful.

Activists pushing for the initiative, like John Payne, the campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, have noted that it’s “wishful thinking” to believe the GOP-run legislature would pass any kind of meaningful bill legalizing recreational use of cannabis.

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

There’s also a risk that anti-legalization lawmakers would try to block the law from being implemented, similar to what took place in the state after a ballot initiative seeking to expand Medicaid eligibility successfully passed in 2020. After that measure was passed, Republican lawmakers tried to block its implementation by stripping provisions in the Missouri state budget that would have funded the expansion.

The Missouri Supreme Court later ruled that the law was constitutional and had to be enforced. Medicaid expansion officially began in Missouri in October, expanding services to around 275,000 residents in the state.