A bipartisan group of state lawmakers and cannabis activists is calling on Missouri Governor Mike Parson to include recreational marijuana legalization in a special legislative session scheduled for later this month. The legislators and advocates also announced the launch of a campaign to oppose a voter initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis, which will appear on the Missouri ballot as Amendment 3 in the November general election.
Missouri state lawmakers will return to the state Capitol in Jefferson City on September 14 to debate a $700 million tax cut plan advanced by Parson. But cannabis activists and legislators including Republican state Representative Tony Lovasco are calling on the governor to add discussions for a marijuana legalization plan that could be passed before the electorate votes on Amendment 3, which is supported by the state’s medical marijuana industry.
“Rather than settle for an ill-suited and monopolistic program shoehorned into our (state) constitution, the Missouri General Assembly has a unique opportunity to consider legislation that would legalize cannabis in a truly free market fashion,” Lovasco said.
The state legislature considered a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Missouri earlier this year, but the legislation stalled under intense lobbying pressure from the established medical marijuana industry. Instead, the medical cannabis lobby supported the initiative campaign for Amendment 3, which would give current medical marijuana licensees the first shot at recreational cannabis licenses and put a cap on the number of marijuana businesses that can operate in the state.
State officials announced on August 9 that Amendment 3 had qualified for the ballot for this fall’s general election. On August 19, however, opponents of marijuana legalization filed a lawsuit to block the initiative from the November ballot.
Whether Parson will grant the request and add adult-use cannabis legalization to the agenda for the special legislative session remains to be seen. The governor has received significant campaign funding from the medical marijuana industry and has publicly opposed the recreational marijuana legalization amendment, saying that it is a “disaster” that will mostly benefit “corporations behind marijuana.”
Missouri Group Opposes Amendment 3
Advocates for including marijuana legalization talks in the special legislative session repeated Parson’s complaints about Amendment 3. State Representative Wiley Price, a Democrat, said that the proposal would “corner the market for those already in position and continue a long tradition of predatory behavior on minority and poor communities.”
Opponents of Amendment 3 also note that the initiative includes provisions that criminalize some marijuana-related activities. Because the proposal is a constitutional amendment, changing it in the future will be a difficult process.
“We oppose any effort to put criminal or civil penalties for marijuana in the Missouri Constitution,” said Jeremy Cady, director of Americans for Prosperity Missouri. “The General Assembly should act to end marijuana prohibition and do so in a manner that adheres to free market principles.”
“It can be changed, but it’s going to be very, very hard, so the people who put this in place, will have full control over whether something changes again,” added cannabis activist Timothy Gilio.
John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, the group campaigning for the passage of Amendment 3, criticized Eapen Thampy, a lobbyist who is helping organize opposition to the ballot measure. He said if voters approve Amendment 3, it would “ruin [Thampy’s] business model of lobbying for failed marijuana legalization efforts year after year.”
“In November, we will become the 20th state to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana and the first state to vote for automatic expungement of past, non-violent marijuana offenses,” Payne said. “Amendment 3 will allow law enforcement to focus on serious and violent crime, while bringing millions in new revenues to Missourians.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.