John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, kicked off the signature collection campaign in Kansas City, Mo. on December 1, 2021. Credit: Submitted / Legal Missouri 2022

An adult-use legalization ballot petition group backed by Missouri’s main cannabis trade association kicked off its signature collection efforts towards getting on the November 2022 ballot. The group, Legal Missouri 2022, is pushing one of at least two competing adult-use ballot measures seeking to legalize adult use next year.

“Signature by signature, our statewide coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, cannabis patients and criminal justice reform advocates hears the same message from Missouri voters: it’s past time to end the senseless and costly prohibition of marijuana,” said Legal Missouri 2022 campaign director John Payne in a news release.

The group needs to turn in just over 160,000 registered voter signatures by May 3, 2022. Alan Zagier, spokesperson group and a principal at Tightlight Public Affairs, would not reveal the number of signatures they’ve collected thus far. Tightline also provides communications services to the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, the lead cannabis business group in the state.

According to Payne, hundreds of trained signature collectors are volunteering throughout Missouri on behalf of Legal Missouri 2022.

If passed, the petition would modify the existing state constitutional amendment that legalized medical cannabis with language that would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses and create social equity-oriented microbusiness licenses, but also automatically grant adult-use licenses to all medical facilities, while delaying the creation of new licenses by nine months after enactment.

“Criminal justice reform is a centerpiece of our campaign, which aims to provide a fresh start to tens of thousands of state residents whose criminal records would be wiped clean of low-level marijuana offenses through automatic expungement,” said Payne.

The automatic expungement provision does not apply to violent offenders or those whose offenses involved distribution to a minor or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

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

Owsley cited recent research that Blacks are 2.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Missouri, even though their national marijuana usage rates are comparable.

“Nonviolent marijuana arrests are clogging prisons, wasting taxpayer dollars and keeping far too many people of color from fully pursuing their chances to live the American dream.”

With the automatic expungement, Missourians would not be required to petition the court to have it done. Among the 37 states that have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 to authorize adult use, just seven have this kind of process, the release states.

Missouri voters in 2018 overwhelmingly agreed to enshrine the use and sale of medical cannabis in the state’s constitution. State regulators have since issued nearly 160,000 medical cannabis cards to Missouri patients and caregivers, a participation rate significantly higher than early estimates.

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.