Missouri ballot initiative on recreational marijuana faces opposition from legalization advocates

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 10:30 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - When the news broke this week that a marijuana legalization amendment will be on the November ballot in Missouri, not everyone was excited. The most vocal opposition is among those in favor of legalization but who contend the ballot measure is the wrong way to make that happen.

The November ballot initiative, known as Legal Missouri 2022 or Amendment 3, would create an amendment to the state constitution to legalize and regulate the cultivation, sale, possession and consumption of cannabis for people aged 21 and older. A similar amendment creating a legal medical marijuana trade passed at the polls in 2018.

It clearly appeals to people who celebrate the legal access to cannabis without a medical card and the tax revenue.

But legalization activist Tim Gilio, who founded an organization called Missouri Marijuana Legalization Movement a decade ago, argues the amendment also brings unfair benefit to business owners who’ve already been reaping the financial rewards with the medical program.

“These guys who’ve been making millions off of this, out of the dispensaries and the grow facilities, are the ones who put the recreational forward,” Gilio said.

He and Missouri State Representative Ashley Bland Manlove, a Democrat who represents a portion of Kansas City, supported a house bill on legalization that had bi-partisan support but ultimately failed to pass this year.

“80% of the licenses will go to people who are already in it,” said Manlove. “We would like an open market, which would give everybody an opportunity to participate in the market, which will also even out the prices of the products.”

Those businesses already licensed under the medical program get first dibs on expanding to comprehensive licenses.

The rollout of the medical marijuana program faced criticism over which applicants were granted licenses. The new amendment would add a new business license category for small businesses, which would be selected by lottery, but opponents note they face stricter limits on how much they can grow and sell.

Manlove and Gilio also take issue with the amendment’s limit on legal possession.

“It does not decriminalize marijuana,” Manlove specified.

“You can still go to jail for having over three ounces,” said Gilio. “We’re kind of dumbfounded why they would even put this into the amendment when we’re wanting to end prohibition, not continue prohibition.”

They contend a constitutional amendment is not the smartest route to legalization. Because it’s not a law, it cannot remove marijuana from the criminal code. It supersedes legislation, so it would take another petition effort and public vote on a new amendment to make changes that might be less punitive, they argue.

Legal Missouri 2022 Campaign Manager John Payne said the fact that it supersedes legislation, generally, is a good thing.

He countered that removing marijuana from the criminal code is a huge hurdle for a GOP-controlled legislature. He said the amendment solidly establishes a right to some level of legal possession, specifying that it must be allowed for three ounces or less, but also has language that would allow lawmakers the option of raising the possession limit above three ounces.

“Legal Missouri 2022 has the broad, robust support of a multitude of criminal justice reform organizations… [including] ACLU, NORML, Empower Missouri, [and] the NAACP,” he wrote in a statement.

On the matter of competition and price, he wrote, “This is already a very competitive medical marijuana market, and under Amendment 3, we will have more than 500 marijuana licenses in the state. That’s nearly twice as many as Illinois, a state twice our population.”

On the criticism about existing licensees getting a bigger piece of the pie, he says the number of business licenses in the amendment is written as a minimum, not a cap.

Opponents note that, in practice, it didn’t work that way with the medical marijuana amendment. The state chose to grant no more than the minimum required in the amendment.

Previous coverage:

Marijuana in Missouri: What’s in the amendment up for public vote?

Missouri will vote on personal use, decriminalization of marijuana in November