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Missouri Marijuana Legalization Drive Hits Ground Running

Voters could decide next year whether Missouri becomes the latest state to legalize marijuana.

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Voters could decide next year whether Missouri becomes the latest state to legalize marijuana, reports St. Louis Public Radio.

A group known as Legal Missouri 2022 launched its initiative petition campaign Thursday morning in St. Louis. If the group gets enough signatures, and Missourian voters approve, adults can legally purchase Cannabis for any reason.

Legal Missouri 2022 presented key parts of their petition during the press conference, reports KSDK. Their main objective: legalizing the possession, purchase, consumption and cultivation of Cannabis for adults 21 and older.

A 6 percent retail sales tax results in estimated annual state revenues of at least $40.8 million, reports Lake Expo. Local governments would get an additional $13.8 million in annual tax revenue, according to estimates.

That money, in turn, would cover program costs including conviction expungement. Surplus funds go to veterans’ healthcare, drug addiction treatment and the state’s public defender system.

‘It Is Finally Time’

“It is finally time for Missouri to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana,” said John Payne of Legal Missouri 2022.

Payne assisted the successful 2018 effort to legalize marijuana for medical use in Missouri. That initiative passed with close to a 2/3 majority: 66% of the vote. Payne said the resounding success of the 2018 campaign bodes well for the effort to expand availability of marijuana.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized Cannabis.

“We believe we have the support now to pass the adult use of marijuana in Missouri,” Payne said.

“Every state in the northeast, on the west coast and most of the mountain west now has legalized the adult use of marijuana,” Payne said. “And then our neighbor to the east, Illinois has legalized marijuana for the past two years,” Payne said. “So we know that it’s something that could work here in Missouri,” he said, reports Fox 2 Now.

Automatic Expungement Of Past Convictions

Organizers and supporters of the petition are also pushing for another important criminal reform: expungement of some marijuana convictions. 

Mallory Rusch is with Empower Missouri, an anti-poverty advocacy group and organizer of the criminal justice coalition.

“With marijuana already being legal for millions of Americans, it is completely nonsensical to continue to penalize and punish individuals for current or past use,” Rusch said.

Rusch supports the automatic expungement provision in the Legal Missouri 2022 petition. She points out the expungement provision doesn’t apply to everyone with a marijuana conviction. It would not erase convictions of offenses involving distribution to a minor, or driving while under the influence of marijuana.

“Our organization stands firmly in support of this sorely needed ballot initiative,” said Sarah Owsley, policy director for Empower Missouri. “Missouri shouldn’t legalize marijuana without automatically expunging the thousands of criminal records for marijuana offenses that will soon be legal.”

Racial Equity For Missouri

This initiative is of the largest criminal justice reform efforts in the state’s history, said Adolphus Pruitt of the St. Louis NAACP.

Pruitt said that Cannabis law reform isn’t only a criminal justice issue, but a racial issue. He pointed to a 2020 report from the ACLU showing racial disparities in marijuana arrests.

“Blacks were 2.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession,” Pruitt said. “Even worse, in Johnson, Layfette and Lincoln counties, blacks were 10 times more likely to be arrested.”

Pruitt added that from 2010 to 2018, 50% of all drug arrests in Missouri were on low-level possession charges.

“It is time that we legalize marijuana across the state and … make sure that those folks that were impacted more than others have the opportunity to have their records expunged automatically,” Pruitt said.

Group Has Until May 8 To Gather 170,000 Valid Signatures

The Legal Missouri 2022 campaign is building a base of volunteers while ramping up signature collection across the state. 

Hundreds of trained signature collectors are volunteering throughout Missouri, according to Payne.

“Our statewide coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, cannabis patients and criminal justice reform advocates hears the same message from Missouri voters,” Payne said. “It’s past time to end the senseless and costly prohibition of marijuana,” Payne said, reports Lake Expo.

The group filed an initiative with the secretary of state in August. They have until May 8, 2022, to gather 170,000 valid signatures from voters.

That would force a state-wide legalization vote on the ballot for the 2022 election.

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