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Activists Renew Push to Legalize Recreational Marijuana in Missouri

Initiative Petitions Filed With the State This Week

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Above image credit: Cannabis growing facilities at Ever-Bloom Farm in Carpinteria, California, on September 14, 2019. (Rod Rolle/Sipa USA | AP Images)

Not long ago, Americans had to hustle to obtain substances that are now readily dispensed for medical use.

This week, cannabis activists renewed their push to end what some refer to as a modern prohibition. They filed initiative petitions seeking to amend Missouri’s constitution to allow “adult use of cannabis.”

The tide in Missouri began to shift in 2018, when 66% of citizens voted to legalize medical marijuana.

Since then, Missouri has had one of the fastest rollouts of medical marijuana in the country.

“We’ve seen explosive growth in 2021,” said Jack Cardetti from the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association.

According to data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the industry has already generated more than $60 million in revenue this year.

Cardetti also said that 125,000 Missourians now have patient cards for medical marijuana, and the field is currently employing more than 3,800 people in the state.


June 2021 map of state regulated cannabis programs.
June 2021 map of state regulated cannabis programs. (Source: National Conference of State Legislatures)

Eric McSwain is an independent caregiver with an Advanced Caregiver Certification as well as a marijuana advocate with Fair Access Missouri. He said that this meteoric rise has come with issues as well.

After legalization in 2018, complaints mounted when license applications to grow and distribute medical marijuana were denied in droves.

The application process was not easy or cheap, and many felt that the scoring criteria was inconsistent. McSwain sank six figures into his applications to cultivate marijuana and operate a dispensary, which were denied for reasons he still doesn’t understand.

“Limited licensing is creating an injustice in the industry itself because it raises the bar of entry quite a bit,” McSwain said.

He has concerns that the “traditional market” (also known as the “black market”) will be unable to compete with dispensaries, and without an open market both consumers and producers will be priced out.

Many of the clients under his care are on a fixed income and he doesn’t want to see them have to choose between putting food on the table or medicine that improves their quality of life.

“At the end of the day, that limited license system can create problems in the industry itself,” McSwain said. “And ultimately it affects the patients. And the patients are what should be coming first out of all of this, not sort of as a secondary secondary thought.”

This is partially why Fair Access Missouri is fighting to get adult use of marijuana on the 2022 ballot.

Fair Access Missouri filed four initiative petitions this week to “legalize the adult use of cannabis and establish an open market for its production and sale that will create jobs, expand Missouri’s economy, and encourage entrepreneurship.”

Three of the four petitions were denied within a day, but the group plans on refiling within the week. According to Ballotpedia, supporters need to collect at least 171,592 valid signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendments on the 2022 Missouri ballot.

Those in the cannabis industry say 2018 showed that Missourians are ready to legalize adult use. According to McSwain and Fair Access Missouri, opening up the cannabis market will create more jobs, more tax revenue and more reasonable prices.

Notably, neighboring Illinois implemented a tax-and-regulate model for recreational marijuana in 2020.

“It’s a matter of when, not if,” Cardetti said.

Catherine Hoffman covers community affairs and culture for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.

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