Medical marijuana was approved by the state’s voters back in 2018. Last year, there was an effort to again change Missouri’s state constitution to allow for the use of recreational marijuana, which would have mirrored the push for medical marijuana. Volunteers had begun gathering the signatures needed to bring the measure to the ballot - but then Covid 19 shut down the efforts.
Around 170,000 signatures were needed for the initiative to appear on the ballot. It was already a tall order even before the pandemic arrived and stopped the world. Organizers did try to explore alternatives to collecting in-person signatures - including gathering signatures online - because of the extraordinary circumstances last year. The state wouldn’t allow that as an option, and there was no way to meet the deadline for signatures.
Using the ballot initiative would allow the issue to be brought directly to the voters. There is also legislation being considered before the state’s legislature, but organizers of the ballot initiative feel that this method makes it easier to get it passed faster. It also allows the decision to be made directly by the voters.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas pointed out one benefit to legalization – increased tax revenue. "I'll just say it this way -- it's a hell of a lot better for us to have tax revenues from marijuana rather than spending tax revenues to try to continue a somewhat unhelpful, unsuccessful drug war against marijuana," Lucas said. City sales tax on recreational marijuana could be 13%, with 3% going to local governments.
It will be interesting to see if other local governments in Missouri begin to show more support for similar measures, as they would provide much-needed funding.
A Potential Bottleneck
Eleven bills have passed the Missouri house that among other things, expand the process for amending the state’s constitution. One would require that ballot initiatives first be approved by the legislature before going onto the ballot for consideration by voters. Another proposed that the state would collect $500 for each initiative petition filed. Several require that signatures come from all eight of Missouri’s congressional districts instead of the current requirement of six, and would increase the percentage of voters needed for the measure to qualify. And another bill would require that the constitutional amendments win a majority of registered voters rather than the current standard of winning a majority of the votes cast on election day.
All of the bills will next go to the state senate for consideration. Should these bills pass the senate and get approved by the governor, they will inevitably add more time to the steps towards recreational and/or full legalization moves.
By virtue of additional steps, these bills could prolong the process of getting recreational marijuana (and other legislation) to the voters for a vote. While both sides of the political spectrum are generally in favor of medical marijuana, these new steps could add more time and create more hoops to jump through on the recreational side.
A New, Booming Industry in the State
4/20 is marijuana’s unofficial holiday, and this year Missouri was able to join in celebrating it. The brand-new medical marijuana industry is booming in Missouri. The state is the 34th in the country to implement a legal medical marijuana program.
The state has processed almost 93,000 medical marijuana cards. Last year there were 20 medical marijuana dispensaries in Missouri – now there are 80. This new industry has generated more than $32 million in sales since October 2020, when the first dispensary opened. And the state has collected around $1.3 million in taxes.
Applications for new medical marijuana cards rose sharply last month. The growth of the industry is undoubtedly welcome in Missouri. Along with tax revenue, it also brings jobs – 5700 new jobs are projected. It’s anticipated that sales will hit $100 million by late summer and $200 million by the end of 2021.
This means that thousands of people in Missouri will have effective treatments for various illnesses and medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer-causing conditions, pain, anxiety, and many more conditions. And we all know what an amazing - and immediate - impact this will have on so many people's lives!
One good way to get an idea of where we’re heading is to look at polling data. Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana back in 2012, and back then only 48% of Americans supported legalization. That number has risen steadily since then, as more and more states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis. Now we learn that 70% of adults in the US consider smoking marijuana to be morally acceptable.
It’s a little bit of a chicken-or-the-egg type of question. Which came first, the advancing legalization or the strengthening of acceptance? Seeing this trend, it’s likely that more and more states will legalize recreational marijuana soon. It’s even conceivable that we could see a significant shift in federal policy.
Getting enough signatures to get the legalization measure on the ballot, so the voters could decide, could still make a huge difference. Decriminalization is the wave of the future but though it will make a huge difference in many people's lives, it's still one step in the direction we are all hoping to get to.