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Missouri Marijuana Legalization: The Devil’s In The Details

“I’m in support of legalization,” said Democratic House leader Crystal Quade. “I wish the initiative was better.”

Missouri NORML

On Aug. 9, Missouri voters learned that adult-use marijuana legalization will appear on the November ballot

Constitutional Amendment 3 is a ballot initiative by Legal Missouri 2022. It promises to legalize Cannabis usage by adults and expunge non-violent marijuana-related charges from criminal records. 

Recent survey data shows 62% of Missourians support marijuana legalization. But deciding the fate of weed policy isn’t quite that simple. Some supporters, in fact, of adult-use marijuana are among the most vehement opponents of the initiative, reports Flatland KC.

Some Pro-Weed Groups Vow To Vote Against Measure

To this reporter, a veteran of the internecine battle in Washington over that state’s flawed 2012 legalization initiative, it all seems eerily familiar. And the stark reality on the ground in Washington is that the issues that were there at the beginning — like lack of homegrowing — are still unsolved, a decade later. This is despite the ”pass it now and we’ll fix it later folks who supported the watered-down, ACLU-sponsored form of legalization passed there.

Some organizations and Facebook groups which support legalization, say they will vote “no” on November’s Missouri proposal. Disagreements around social equity, taxation, decriminalization and regulation are dividing the pro-legalization groups. 

With legalization supporters going at each other, the fate of Legal Missouri in the November 8 election seems hazy. 

“It’s Not A Very Straightforward Issue”

Legalization is complex; it affects more industries than just weed companies, and more individuals than just marijuana users, said Clark Wu, at the Bianchi & Brandt legal firm.

“It’s not a very straightforward issue,” Wu said. “There’s a lot of components to (legalization) that range from public policy concerns, costs, regulation, social justice – among a number of things.” 

When drafting legalization policies, folks look to other states, industry figures and advocacy groups to cover the bases. But it’s also important to create a policy that reaches citizens and isn’t too polarizing. The ultimate goal, after all, is to win at the ballot box. 

Six Plants And Three Ounces Allowed

Adults can register to grow up to six flowering Cannabis plants at home if the ballot initiative passes. So on the face of it, Missouri’s initiative is at least better than Washington state’s pioneering 2012 effort. But realistically speaking, that first timid step into the roiling waters of marijuana poilicy represents an extremely low bar.

In addition, adults in Missouri can possess up to three ounces of herb under the measure. That’s considerably better than the paltry one ounce allowed in Washington.

It’s the thorny issue of public consumption — and likely law enforcement response to such consumption remaining illegal — that worries activists.

Fear In Historically Targeted Communities

Some activists rightly wonder if weed is truly legalized when some elements continue to be punishable. That’s particularly true because such caveats tend to produce ”contact with law enforcement.” That’s always a risky thing, particularly so for minorities, and thus quite problematic.

In a virtual town hall discussion in January, Brennan England, the state representative for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, wondered if this was “recriminalization” rather than decriminalization. 

Communities historically targeted for marijuana enforcement fear giving cops another way to harass. If pot-hating police have a legal leg to stand on with marijuana suppression, in other words, they will quite likely use it. Add the unfortunate, systemic racism endemic to law enforcement, and it’s not a pretty picture.

“Just Another Way For Black People To Get Harassed By Law Enforcement”

The measure gives local governments the authority to regulate the time and place where marijuana may be smoked in public areas. That means they can prohibit consumption of marijuana products within designated areas. 

These policies are a deal-breaker for some Cannabis supporters, said Eapen Thampy, with Missouri Marijuana Legalization Movement.

“Someone who’s legal to use and possess, why should we harass them for using cannabis?” Thampy asked. “You take that idea to anyone in the Black community here in Kansas City, or St Louis and they’re outraged. Because in their mind, that’s just another way for Black people to get harassed by law enforcement.”

“This is something that the public generally wants there to be controls on public use, and we think that’s best left up to local government,” Legal Missouri’s Payne said. “But we did decriminalize (public use).”

Automatic Expungement

Missouri cops are 2.6 times more likely to arrest Blacks for marijuana possession than arrest white folks for the same offense, according to the ACLU. And some Missouri counties showed likelihoods more than 10 times greater for Blacks.

Considering the racial disparity and the vast number of people affected by marijuana prohibition-era policies, an important part of legalization is ameliorating some of that past harm done. 

Other states have included conviction expungement in their legalization language. But Legal Missouri is unique in its inclusion of automatic expungement for qualifying marijuana charges.


Those with violent charges, or charges of more than three pounds, will have to finish their sentences before becoming eligible for expungement. And sales to a minor and driving while under the influence simply will not be eligible for expungement. 

Opponents argue it’s not real “legalization” if some folks are still serving time for weed. Thampy, group moderator for the Missouri Marijuana Legalization Movement with almost 64,000 members on Facebook, said the expungement policy is flawed. 

“That’s really problematic to us, because we have the presumptively legalized, commercial possession and sale,” Thampy said. 

Additionally, Thampy noted that an automatic expungement process does not currently exist in Missouri. Therefore, the logistics of coordinating such an undertaking with circuit courts would be difficult and expensive, he said.

“I Wish The Initiative Was Better”

Missouri Democrats stand to benefit from the presence of a legalization initiative on November’s ballot. They believe it will motivate voters to show up at the polls. Even so, they don’t view the Legal Missouri measure through rose-colored glasses, reports the Missouri Independent.

“I definitely think that it will bring out more voters,” Democratic House leader Crystal Quade said of the marijuana proposal. ”It will bring out younger voters, and traditionally, younger voters tend to vote Democratic. So that is looking like good news for us.”

But when it comes to what she thinks of the policy laid out in Amendment 3, Quade’s enthusiasm dims. “I’m in support of legalization,” she said. “I wish the initiative was better, but it is what we’re given to work with right now. It’s a starting point. We definitely will have to make improvements if this passes.”

St. Louis Mayor Concerned About Expanding Police Powers

“I’m a yes for legalization,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones recently tweeted, “but upon further study, it looks like the devil is in the details…literally and figuratively.”

Rosetta Okohson, Jones’ campaign manager, said the mayor is concerned about a licensing system for medical marijuana resulting in few successful applicants from minority communities. Since current license holders get first dibs on new adult-use licenses, Okohson said Amendment 3 reinforces that inequity.

Jones is also concerned about a provision that would be enshrined in the state constitution allowing police to issue citations for smoking marijuana in unapproved public areas. Critics have begun calling it “stop and cite.”

“When we are expanding police powers, and putting it in the constitution,” Okohson said, “that’s always going to give Mayor Jones pause.”

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