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Missouri’s legalization measure is drawing unexpected opposition

Published on October 24, 2022
Amendment 3 would legalize recreational weed in Missouri, but is facing some unexpected opposition as the Nov. 8 vote nears.

With the Nov. 8 election only two weeks away, Missouri’s adult-use cannabis legalization measure is facing unexpected opposition from some state organizations and political parties.

Amendment 3 would allow adults to purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis flower or its equivalent. It would also allow adults to grow cannabis at home, with a state-issued registration card. State cannabis excise tax revenues would be earmarked for veterans’ homes, drug treatment programs and public defenders. The amendment also mandates an automatic expungement process for past offenders.

Despite these proposals, however, a range of organizations—including the Missouri NAACP, the Missouri Democratic Party, and the Missouri Libertarian Party—have declined to endorse the measure, or even come out to publicly oppose it. 

They contend, among other concerns, that Amendment 3 does not offer sufficient social equity provisions, that it will enable current medical marijuana companies to monopolize the rec market, and that the measure’s possession limits are arbitrary and will result in further criminalization.

Election 2022: Missouri marijuana legalization guide

NAACP chapters split on their support

Although the St. Louis and several other local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have endorsed Amendment 3, the organization’s statewide chapter has explicitly encouraged residents to vote against it.

“In an effort to prevent the permanent exclusion of minorities from the cannabis industry in the state of Missouri, the NAACP calls upon every voter to reject the criminalization of marijuana possession, de facto racist regulation of the cannabis market, and the wool being pulled over our eyes by the supporters of Amendment 3,” the group wrote in a statement released earlier this month.

Election 2022: Marijuana legalization voting guide

The NAACP’s comment regarding the criminalization of marijuana refers to language in Amendment 3 that considers the possession of three to six ounces of marijuana subject to a civil penalty for the first two violations, and a misdemeanor for the third violation. (You can find that language on pages 35 and 36 of the non-searchable amendment text.)

Yet the amendment text does not appear to include further language regarding criminal penalties. When contacted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, officials with the legalization campaign concurred in their response to the NAACP’s criticism.

The Legal Missouri campaign further noted that an individual arrested for a third offense currently faces felony charges under state law. So the Amendment would significantly reduce the penalty a person would face for a third offense.

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Does Amendment 3 create a monopoly?

The Missouri NAACP contends that Amendment 3 “does not increase the number of available full market licenses” and criticizes the “very limited” number of small business licenses that would be issued under the framework of the law. 

Amendment 3 does not include language around license caps, nor does it call for the issuance of new non-microbusiness licenses.

As Nicholas Phillips reported comprehensively in St. Louis Magazine, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services—which would oversee the program—would not have an incentive to issue any new licenses, especially as the program launches and the market stabilizes.

Regarding small business licenses, the amendment mandates the issuance of at least 144 licenses for cannabis microbusinesses. 

It defines a microbusiness as an entity whose majority of owners either a) have a net worth of less than $250,000, or at one point in time had an income 250% below the federal poverty line, b) are considered disabled veterans, c) have been themselves, or had a family member arrested for a non-violent marijuana offense (except for selling to minors), or d) live in a zip code substantially below the federal poverty line, in a zip code with high unemployment, or in a zip code with above-average marijuana arrests. (You can find additional details of microbusiness definitions on page 26 of the amendment text).

“We are proud to have the endorsement of the St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and Columbia branches of the NAACP,” John Payne, Legal Missouri campaign manager, said in a statement, in response to the statewide organization’s criticism.

State Democratic Party does not endorse

Even though many Democratic leaders in Missouri have said they will support the legalization measure, the state party declined to officially endorse it.

Party leaders said they couldn’t endorse it due to a number of shortcomings in the amendment. They highlighted a potential for the creation of a rec market monopoly among existing medical marijuana license-holders, and concerns over the effectiveness of the amendment’s proposed pathway to expungement.

The amendment does in fact grandfather existing all 193 medical marijuana providers into adult-use licenses, and Missouri medical marijuana companies have made large donations to the campaign—nearly $700,000 since October 1 alone.

What’s up with expungements?

Per the expungement argument: The process outlined in Amendment 3 would not necessarily occur automatically in every case. Furthermore, the amendment’s language dictates that expungement will be granted unless the case presents “good cause for denial.”

Amendment 3 “may negatively impact minorities, people of color, and low-income earning Missourians,” the state Democratic Party committee said in a press statement released in September.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Trudy Busch Valentine, the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate, and Alan Green, the Party’s candidate for state auditor, will vote for Amendment 3. 

The newspaper added, however, that State Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, believes that Missouri would benefit from waiting for a different bill.

Libertarians decide to not endorse

The Missouri Libertarian Party similarly decided to not endorse the measure. Chairman Bill Slantz took particular issue with the three-ounce possession cap. 

“It gets ridiculously messy,” Slantz told the Post-Dispatch in a separate article. “If you have 3.2 ounces or 3.1 ounces … has the scale been … checked to make sure it’s accurate?”

While critics can construe any possession limit as arbitrary, Missouri’s three ounce limit remains much higher than most other legal states’: California, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, and others set the limit at one ounce. New York also has a three-ounce limit. (In New Jersey, however, adults can possess up to six ounces.)

Slantz nonetheless said he’d personally vote for Amendment 3.

3-ounce limit is 3x more than most states

Dan Viets, a Missouri attorney and chair of Legal Missouri 2022’s advisory board, pointed out that the three-ounce limit remains higher than other legal states’ caps, in an interview with Reason

Viets further suggested that the limit represented a compromise. “The reason for limits in general is that we hope to actually pass this law… Certainly, there are compromises in Amendment 3, and they’re there so it will pass,” he told Reason.

Dubious claims about street sellers and kids

The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA) offered more criticism of Amendment 3 in a position paper released in September.

It’s not entirely surprising that an organization of prosecuting attorneys have come out against a legalization measure. What’s noteworthy is their reasoning.

Among other points, MAPA claims that the amendment protects individuals that sell cannabis to minors. 

“Amendment 3 fails to protect our children from dealers in black market marijuana. While a person under 21 is not to possess recreational Marijuana, a dealer can give marijuana to middle schoolers and face only a “civil penalty” of $100,” the group wrote.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out that Amendment 3 does not legalize the sale of cannabis to minors. Selling weed to middle schoolers would still be subject to felony drug charges.

Criticizing the Amendment form

MAPA additionally noted the difficulties in modifying a constitutional amendment.

“Think how often you have heard about a law that had a problem and had to be fixed or changed – it happens all the time,” the group wrote. 

“If any part of the law is invalid or does not do what it was supposed to do, our legislature is powerless to fix it except to send the Amendment back for an expensive state-wide election.”

Polls are all over the place

It remains to be seen whether these unexpected voices of opposition will impact the outcome of the November vote. Current polling doesn’t paint a clear picture, either. 

While a SurveyUSA poll released on September 19 concluded that 62% of residents will support Amendment 3, others were less optimistic.

Both polls, released in September, pegged support at 48 and 43%, respectively. 

Despite the opposition that Amendment 3 has drawn, John Payne, of Legal Missouri, nonetheless remains optimistic about its passage.

“Amendment 3 will pass because Missourians of all political persuasions want to see the Show Me State legalize marijuana and automatically expunge past, nonviolent cannabis offenses,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.
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