Imagine you’re a Missouri voter who pays scant attention to the news and tends to wing it when you show up to cast your ballot. Now imagine that on Nov. 6, upon sauntering up to the voting machine, you are pleasantly surprised to find that you’re being asked to vote on the legalization of medical marijuana.
“Regardless of whether any or all of these is passed, it’s a great day for Missouri voters because they have a choice.”Travis Brown, Proposition C spokesperson
Specifically, Amendment 2 asks you whether you are in favor of altering the state constitution to allow doctors to selectively prescribe cannabis, the sales of which would be taxed at 4%. Easy choice, right?
Moving down through the ballot, you find another initiative: Amendment 3.
That one also asks for your vote on a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. Amendment 3 would tax cannabis at a rate of 15%.
Now you’re thinking, Do I vote for just one, or both?
And that’s when things really get confusing, because continuing on, you find yet another ballot initiative, Proposition C, which would create a state law allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis. That proposal, known as the Missourians for Patient Care Act, calls for a 2% tax.
What gives? Hundreds of choices
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Hundreds of choices
The Tyranny of Choice
Let’s start with the obvious: Choice is good. The fact that cannabis has reached the ballot at all, much less three times, in a stridently red state like Missouri: also good. As Travis Brown, a spokesman for the third initiative, rather magnanimously puts it, “Regardless of whether any or all of these is passed, it’s a great day for Missouri voters because they have a choice.”
That said, social scientists have identified what they call “the tyranny of choice” as a growing source of angst in our society. Although it’s clearly preferable to have some choice rather than none, more choice isn’t necessarily better. For one thing, you feel anxious about making the wrong decision.
In this case, the abundance of options is unlike anything folks in the national advocacy movement have seen before. Other states have put two competing medical cannabis initiatives before the voters—most recently Arkansas in 2016—but there have never been three.
“It’s certainly unconventional,” says Matt Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “And it makes it a little more challenging in terms of getting medical marijuana passed.”
Dan Viets of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) chuckles at the surreal nature of it. “I don’t believe it’s ever happened before on any issue,” he says. “It’s certainly a strange thing.”
We’re here, then, to clarify what’s going on.
Let’s start with the first initiative on the ballot. Amendment 2 is the brainchild of New Approach Missouri, a coalition of patients, doctors, and veterans who are pitching a straight-down-the-middle concept: Doctors would be able to prescribe cannabis for one of 10 medical conditions, including cancer, PTSD, chronic pain, and Parkinson’s.
Amendment 2: Just like other legal medical marijuana states.
“We have one simple goal, and that’s to make Missouri the 31st state with medical marijuana,” says Jack Cardetti, spokesman for New Approach Missouri. The same organization came within 23 signatures of introducing a similar ballot initiative in 2016, and has had a couple of years to study other states’ successes and struggles with cannabis legislation.
Several provisions speak to New Approach Missouri’s quest to make its approach palatable to a heartland sensibility. Some of the tax revenues would be funneled into veteran’s programs. Patients would be able to grow their own plants, but only in a state-registered facility that would extract a $100 license fee. Many of the provisions mirror similar efforts in Colorado and other states that have successfully adopted medical cannabis laws.
All of this looks even more straightforward in comparison to Amendment 3, which was hatched by a Springfield attorney and physician named Brad Bradshaw.
Amendment 3: The Brad Bradshaw amendment.
His proposal, nicknamed the Bradshaw Amendment, would funnel the haul from its eye-popping 15% tax into the creation of a research institute that would aim to “develop cures for cancer and other incurable diseases or medical conditions.”
Bradshaw wrote the amendment. Bradshaw picked up the million-plus-dollar tab to put the measure on the ballot and advertise it. And Bradshaw stands to be the prime beneficiary if it passes, by appointing himself the head of the facility that would rake in revenues of around $66 million, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
If that strikes you as a touch bombastic, you’re not off the mark: In one of his video advertisements, Bradshaw appears in an operating room in scrubs, equating his proposed research facility to the projects that put a man on the moon and built the atomic bomb.
Amendment 3, in other words, is the marijuana-policy equivalent of a vanity plate.
“It’s a surreal contrast,” Cardetti says. “Amendment 2 is [advocates] looking out for the patients of Missouri, and Amendment 3 is Brad Bradshaw looking out for himself.”
Viets also pointed out that the 15 percent medical cannabis tax—which would be the highest of its kind in the nation—will be a deal-breaker for a lot of potential patients. “It kind of defeats the whole purpose of legalization,” he says. “People are just going to go back to buying it from the black market.”
Bradshaw, in turn, argues that Amendment 2 will be torpedoed because Missourians don’t want people to be able to grow their own cannabis. “It’s destined for failure,” he tells Leafly. And he accuses the New Approach Missouri team of being deceitful—that its 4% tax will effectively be higher than his 15% after adding in local sales taxes and other levies. (The Secretary of State’s office estimates that Amendment 2 would bring in $24 million, about two-thirds less than what Amendment 3 would generate.)
“They’re upset that I’m exposing them,” Bradshaw says. “I’ve actually gotten death threats.”
Bradshaw contends that he won’t benefit personally, and points out wording on the ballot petition that his temporary position as coordinator of the research facility would be unpaid. “This will be the best medical marijuana law in the United States,” he says.
Proposition C, meanwhile, would create a new law rather than an ironclad amendment to the state constitution. That means it could be tweaked and changed later by state legislators.
Prop C: Travis Brown's mystery law. Who's behind it? Nobody but Brown seems to know.
Travis Brown, a lobbyist whose PR firm spearheaded the petition drive for Prop C, aka the Patient Care Act, says that’s partly the point. His measure “is more flexible,” he says. “We felt that the probability that everything will be implemented perfectly—which has not happened in other states—will be pretty low, and the probability that you might need to tweak the thing in three to five years might be pretty high.”
Brown says his organization has focused on adopting lessons learned elsewhere to “attract an investor class that will actually commit to the Midwest.”
Which is where things get interesting with Prop C. Brown has declined to reveal the identities of board of directors and other financial backers behind the Patient Care Act, which has generated a stir in Missouri media. Proposition C is being operated as a 501(c)4, a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is social welfare, and as such is not required to reveal who’s writing the checks.
Brown again declined to name names to Leafly. Asked whether he gets the sense that voters are OK with not knowing who’s bankrolling the plan, Brown said, “I get the sense they will do anything to vote for medical cannabis and have access to it.” He added that Missourians are “more interested in full legalization than I would’ve thought two years ago.”
What Are National Groups Doing?
As the mainstream choice, Amendment 2 has earned the backing of national advocacy organizations, including the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, and NORML. “It draws on best practices from other states,” says Schweich of the MPP. “And it doesn’t make the tax rate so high so that patients can’t afford to take part.”
Cardetti says the New Approach Missouri folks are comfortable that voters—already primed in Missouri for one of the nation’s most fiercely contested Senate races—understand the choices. Ballot placement also matters. As the top choice on the ballot, Amendment 2 will be in a strong position. With its early push and grassroots organization, New Approach was able to turn in its petitions first and thus earn the top spot on the ballot, which Cardetti believes will pay dividends on Election Day.
What if All of Them Pass?
If voters give a thumbs-up to all three initiatives? It’s both straightforward and not.
By state law, the constitutional amendment that draws the larger number of “yes” votes wins. In that way, the contest is ultimately between New Approach and Bradshaw. That winner, because of its standing as a constitutional amendment, would also trump the statutory Missourians for Patient Care Act.
Brown contends there’s value in voting for Proposition C as a “safety valve, in the event that there’s an unexpected outcome from the constitutional amendments that are fighting”—in other words, if Bradshaw wins.
But Viets of NORML says the problem with Prop C is that any law can be undone by the legislature. “They will repeal—they’ll just gut it,” he says. “They do not care what voters think.”
The takeaway is that if you live in Missouri and care about medical cannabis, show up to vote—and don’t wing it.