ST. LOUIS — On Nov. 8, Missouri voters will decide on Amendment 3, which proposes to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana and the expungement of criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses. It would also establish regulations for Missouri's recreational marijuana industry.
Here's what you need to know about Amendment 3.
Official Ballot Title:
"Do you want to amend the Missouri Constitution to:
- remove state prohibitions on purchasing, possessing, consuming, using, delivering, manufacturing, and selling marijuana for personal use for adults over the age of twenty-one;
- require a registration card for personal cultivation with prescribed limits;
- allow persons with certain marijuana-related non-violent offenses to petition for release from incarceration or parole and probation and have records expunged;
- establish a lottery selection process to award licenses and certificates;
- issue equally distributed licenses to each congressional district; and
- impose a six percent tax on the retail price of marijuana to benefit various programs?
State governmental entities estimate initial costs of $3.1 million, initial revenues of at least $7.9 million, annual costs of $5.5 million, and annual revenues of at least $40.8 million. Local governments are estimated to have annual costs of at least $35,000 and annual revenues of at least $13.8 million."
Fair Ballot Language:
"A “yes” vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to remove state prohibitions on the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacture, and sale of marijuana for personal use for adults over the age of twenty-one.
The amendment would also allow individuals with certain marijuana-related offenses to petition for release from prison or parole and probation and have their records expunged; along with imposing a six percent tax on the retail price of recreational marijuana.
A “no” vote will not amend the Missouri Constitution and the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes will remain prohibited under current law. Medical marijuana would remain unchanged.
If passed, this measure will impose a 6 percent tax on the retail price of recreational marijuana."
What it means
If approved, Amendment 3 would legalize the recreational sale of marijuana in Missouri to those aged 21 and older. Missouri residents could also apply for registration cards to grow a limited amount of their own plants at home.
People could still be fined for smoking in public. Individual municipalities could also elect to bar recreational marijuana dispensaries from operating by a public vote.
The amendment would allow for automatic expungement of certain non-violent marijuana offenses from people's criminal records.
It wouldn't expunge offenses for DUIs or selling to a minor. Those currently serving time for marijuana offenses that qualify for expungement would not be automatically released but would be able to petition for release, which would have to be adjudicated within a timeline set by the amendment.
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 6% of the retail price at the state level, with local municipalities given the ability to tax an additional 3%. It's expected to generate millions in yearly revenue.
The amendment would create a lottery process for a limited amount of business licenses, which would be equally divided among congressional districts. It also would establish microbusiness licenses, which have qualifications for application that prioritize low-income and disadvantaged applicants.
The amendment was backed by Legal Missouri 2022, which gathered more than 390,000 signatures to get it on the Nov. 8 ballot.
While the amendment has received support from some recreational marijuana and criminal reform advocates, it has received pushback from others who take issue with parts of the 38-page amendment, hoping voters wait for something better to come along.
“I think there are fewer people opposed to decriminalizing marijuana but the questions come down to the nuances of this legislation," said 5 On Your Side Political Analyst Anita Manion.
The Missouri Democratic Party State Committee is one such group that supports recreational marijuana but said would not give an official position on the amendment.
"As written Amendment 3 may negatively impact minorities, people of color, and low-income earning Missourians. Democrats have concerns about the expungement provisions laid out in the amendment, as well as making it difficult for those who do not currently have a license to enter the industry," the committee wrote.
Part of the initiative's divisiveness is that it's an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. Once approved, it could only be changed or removed by another statewide vote.
“There are pros and cons to making it a constitutional amendment instead of just a law," Manion said. "It means the state legislature can’t overturn it, Parson doesn’t have to sign off on it and it’s more permanent. But it also means that if we start implementing it and we find problems, it’s not easy to fix.”
While the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys criticized the amendment as a threat to public safety, many proponents of criminal justice reform tout it as an opportunity to let police focus on more serious crimes while repairing the damage caused by the war on drugs, which has seen millions of marijuana arrests that disproportionately affect Black citizens. Others say the amendment will cause its own problems with marijuana law reform while continuing to shut communities that have been most negatively impacted out of the industry.
According to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose Missouri affiliate endorses Amendment 3, Black people were 2.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested in Missouri for marijuana possession, despite similar marijuana usage rates.
“There’s certainly a lot more people than (the state's 181,000 medical marijuana card holders) that use marijuana in Missouri on a regular basis and those people shouldn’t be treated as criminals,” Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager John Payne told 5 On Your Side in a previous interview. “We want to create a legal framework for them to use, purchase, and cultivate marijuana for their own personal use.”
However, some argue the Amendment would disproportionately benefit the already established medical marijuana industry, which has been criticized for shutting out Black entrepreneurs and deprioritizing the communities that have been most negatively impacted by the war on drugs.
"So people who already have businesses, who have a license under the medicinal will basically be grandfathered into this, so they will get first stab at it. And some folks feel like that’s unfair," Manion said. "And so opponents argue that this is not taking the step it needs to give priority to the communities that have been most harmed by the war on drugs."
Supporters argue that's why the amendment establishes microbusiness licenses. But these microbusinesses would only be allowed to work with other microbusiness facilities, which some say isn't enough to even the playing field.
The Missouri NAACP in a recent letter urged Missourians to vote "no" on the amendment, in contrast with St. Louis, St. Louis County and Columbia chapters, which all endorse the amendment. In its Voter Report Card, it called the microbusiness market "very limited," calling on voters to reject the amendment "to prevent the permanent exclusion of minorities from the cannabis industry."
The amendment would also establish the right to enforce fines of no more than $100 for smoking in public, and dictates that anyone without a business license who possesses more than three ounces of marijuana but less than six ounces with an intent to distribute would be subject to a misdemeanor upon their third offense.
"What has been touted as a purported advance to reduce criminal convictions related to marijuana only places that criminal provision in the Missouri constitution. Marijuana possession should not be a constitutional crime," the Missouri NAACP wrote.
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the NAACP's St. Louis chapter, voiced his support for the amendment's criminal expungement in a recent interview with 5 On Your Side.
"If we pass Amendment 3, we are righting most of the wrongs that should have been dealt with some time ago," Pruitt said. "Unfortunately, Amendment 3 only eliminates the stigma and the arrest and takes it off the record. I just wish that it had the opportunity to do more."
Not everyone buys that the expungement process is going to happen automatically or that the petition process will go smoothly for incarcerated people as is laid out in the amendment. The Missouri NAACP argued that since the expungement program depends on legislative authorization funding, it "doesn't actually exist."
“Such a big part of this is what the implementation will look like, both from the bureaucracy and the courts," Manion said. "And that’s a criticism of the language being vague, a lot of people are saying it leaves a lot up to discretion and interpretation."
If the amendment were to fail, detractors who support recreational marijuana don't see it as the end for legalization in Missouri.
"Their argument is if we don’t pass this, it’s a huge industry, these folks still want something to happen in Missouri, so they’re gonna come back to the table and make some concessions," Manion said.