A coalition of groups opposed to drug reform efforts has filed a lawsuit to block an initiative to legalize recreational pot from the Missouri ballot, arguing the measure did not meet constitutional requirements and failed to receive enough petition signatures. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft certified the initiative, which would legalize marijuana for adults and permit commercial cannabis activity, earlier this month.
John Payne, a spokesman for Legal Missouri, the group sponsoring the legalization effort, said that it is the only initiative that had the public support necessary to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“This lawsuit lacks merit and in less than three months Missouri will be the 20th state to regulate, tax and legalize cannabis,” said Payne.
The lawsuit was filed on August 19 on behalf of Joy Sweeney, a resident of Jefferson City, Missouri, who serves as the deputy director of training, technical assistance and community outreach for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a coalition of community groups that aims to prevent substance use and abuse. The legal action is also supported by Protect Our Kids PAC, a Colorado-based super PAC started earlier this year to oppose drug policy reform efforts.
“Not only does the language deceive voters about the harms of legalization, it is in violation of state law and the Missouri Constitution,” Luke Niforatos, the CEO of Protect Our Kids PAC, said in a statement. “We hope the courts will rule on this issue expeditiously and spare Missouri’s children from targeting by Big Marijuana.”
JoDonn Chaney, a spokesman for the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, said the office had not been officially served with the suit and that he could not comment on the specifics of the legal action. But he added that the signature totals and certification process “speak for themselves.”
“The individuals responsible for submitting this (initiative petition) met the constitutional requirements as required by statute, therefore Secretary Ashcroft certified Amendment 3 to the ballot,” Chaney said. “The secretary followed the law and fulfilled his statutory duty and stands behind his certification.”
To qualify for the ballot in Missouri, initiative campaigns must collect enough signatures from registered voters to equal at least 8% of the votes cast in the 2020 gubernatorial election in a minimum of six of the state’s eight congressional districts. Those backing the lawsuit note that unofficial tabulations of the petition signatures conducted by local election officials last month showed the campaign was short by 2,275 signatures. But after backers of the petition requested a review of the total by the Secretary of State’s Office, officials determined that the campaign had collected enough signatures and Ashcroft certified the petition for the November ballot on August 9.
The legal action claims that Ashcroft “certified and counted signatures that were marked through by the local election authorities and, absent this action, the marijuana initiative petition would not have had a sufficient number of valid signatures in six of eight congressional districts.” The suit notes that signature counts and voter rolls requested under Missouri’s open records law have not been provided to the plaintiff.
The lawsuit also alleges that the marijuana legalization initiative fails to comply with requirements that ballot measures cover only one subject. Under the Missouri Constitution, initiative petitions that amend the state constitution, “shall not contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith.”
The court filing for the suit claims that the initiative would not only legalize recreational marijuana but would also criminalize cannabis possession beyond a statutory limit, create a process for licensing marijuana cultivators, set tax guidelines, create a new position to oversee licensing “on a preferential basis,” and establish a system to expunge past marijuana convictions.
Under Missouri law, the lawsuit will be advanced to the court docket so it can be heard and decided in an expedited manner.
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.