First adult-use legalization ballot petition filed in Missouri; Competitors expected to come

Mike Fourcher / Grown In

A veg room at C4 cultivation in Carrollton, Missouri.

The first of what is likely to be a set of competing Missouri ballot petitions to legalize recreational cannabis in the November 2022 election was submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State last Thursday. The petition, which is undergoing a mandatory review period by the Secretary of State and time for the Missouri Attorney General’s office to write the official ballot language, could hit streets for signature gathering as early as October.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, a petition to get on the November 2022 ballot that proposes a change to the state constitution needs just over 160,000 signatures turned in by May 3, 2022.

“We have time, assuming language gets back favorable [and] assuming we get it back in October. In a lot of cases people will put forward initiative petitions and then just gather signatures in February, March, and April,” said Eric McSwain, who is heading up the ballot petition group, Fair Access Missouri. McSwain says he expects the effort to gather signatures to be a mix of volunteer and paid canvassers, to cost at least $3 million.

Already, the petitions Fair Access Missouri put forward – the group filed four different versions with slightly different language in an effort to gain the most favorable ballot language authored by the Attorney General’s office – has drawn opposition and critics.

“It is not likely to make the ballot,” posited Dan Viets, an attorney who chaired the Article XIV Campaign, the referendum group that organized the state’s 2018 medical marijuana referendum, and leader of another group preparing their own recreational-use legalization ballot petition. Viets, whose group is backed by a number of Missouri’s largest cannabis companies, says his petition will be filed “Soon, I hope.”

The Fair Access Missouri petition versions all propose five changes to current law:

  • Legalization of possession up to 8 ounces of flower for anyone over the age of 21. But, misdemeanor charges for possession over the limit.
  • Legalization of home cultivation, up to 25 feet of flowering canopy for each person over the age of 21. Resulting flower could be sold to a licensed facility for resale.
  • An unlimited number of recreational cannabis licenses, without a competitive application process, managed by the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. Medical marijuana licenses and regulation would remain under the Department of Health and Senior Services.
  • Local governments could opt-out of allowing cannabis licenses, but would have to do so by June 30, 2023.
  • Automatic release and expungement for past marijuana-related crimes.

Some strident cannabis advocates, such as Eapen Thampy, a longtime Missouri cannabis activist, criticised Fair Access Missouri for not going far enough.

“There’s several problems with their proposals. For one, they’re authorizing possession limits, and new criminal charges for people who possess too much,” said Thampy. But, he expects to see the petition on the ballot next year. “I think they have a reasonable chance of making the ballot if they have the money they say they do.”