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A week after Missouri officials announced winners of nearly 200 medical marijuana retail dispensary licenses, officials with a group dubbed Missourians for a New Approach announced their intent to campaign for a recreational, or “adult-use,” marijuana initiative.

They want to get recreational marijuana onto the November 2020 Missouri ballot.

“We believe Missourians are ready for this,” campaign manager John Payne told the News-Leader late Thursday. “This has been an issue that’s advanced very quickly nationwide. Sometimes the progress has been surprising to those of us who have been advocating for a long time.”

A Pew Research poll published in November found that 67 percent of Americans say “the use of marijuana” should be legal. USA TODAY reported on an April poll by CBS News that indicated 65 percent of Americans said medical marijuana should be available to adults.

The April poll highlighted a major demographic split: 49 percent of people 65 and older supported legalization; the number jumped to 72 percent for people ages 18 to 34. The poll found that 56 percent of Republicans supported legalization compared with 72 percent of Democrats.

Payne and fellow activists hope to gather roughly 160,000 required signatures between now and May and thus get on the Missouri ballot in time for a recreational weed question to accompany the presidential election. Many observers see this as a difficult task with a short timeline.

But Payne said he thinks gathering that number of signatures is “definitely doable.” 

“I’m not going to say that’s an easy task,” he said. “I think someone telling that would be kidding you.”

But, Payne said, a signature-gathering company, FieldWorks, is “already on the ground” preparing to gather the signatures needed to get on the ballot. “Hundreds” of workers are required, he said.

Payne, who said he was also tied to the 2018 New Approach Missouri campaign for medical marijuana along with a 2016 campaign, said that FieldWorks worked with the 2018 campaign successfully.

According to past News-Leader coverage, 11 U.S. states currently have legal recreational weed. Reports indicate “adult-use” measures could end up on the ballot this year in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Medical weed could go on the 2020 ballot in Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Illinois approved recreational cannabis in 2019 with a bill signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, allowing recreational retail sales to begin Jan. 1. The state had approved medical marijuana in 2013 through another bill that went through the legislature.

Initiative petition 2020-128, one of multiple Missouri recreational weed petitions certified for circulation by the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, provides for several changes to Article 14, currently the medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

It would remove Missouri prohibitions on personal use of marijuana for adults 21 and older. The same group would be allowed to possess up to 1 ounce of the plant and cultivate up to three plants;

It would tax retail sales of marijuana at 15 percent, with the funds being split between veterans’ services, state highways, and drug addiction treatment;

It would require local voter approval to ban retail marijuana facilities; 

It would allow Missourians with certain marijuana-related offenses to expunge their criminal record.

The petition language published by the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office states that should petition 2020-128 make it to the ballot and then be approved by voters, state government is expected to have one-time costs of $21 million, annual costs of $6 million, and annual revenues between $93 million and $155 million by 2025.

Local governments estimate “unknown costs” and could realize annual revenues from $17 million to $27 million by 2025, according to the official ballot title certified Dec. 18.

What about medical marijuana?

Meanwhile, medical marijuana is in the process of being implemented by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, with slightly more than 30,000 patients approved for medical marijuana ID cards as of this week, according to the department.

Missourians adopted a medical marijuana constitutional amendment in November 2018 with about 65 percent of the vote. The Amendment 2 ballot measure competed with two other marijuana items in the general election.

Marijuana in MO:Everything you need to know about medical marijuana in Missouri

Since then, the state health department has been working toward implementation. Seed-to-sale tracking announcements were expected to be made Friday. 

But no dispensaries are yet open for retail sales. They must be approved through “commencement inspections” conducted by state authorities, and state-licensed cultivation operations need time to grow weed on Missouri soil. The cannabis then has to be deemed safe by a state-licensed testing lab before it can go on sale to patients.

Medical dispensary sales are thus expected in late spring or early summer.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, said in an email late Thursday, “MoCannTrade is singularly focused right now on building this new industry in Missouri and making Missouri’s medical marijuana program the very best in the country. As this ballot initiative progresses, we will evaluate it more closely and work with our board and members to determine our support.” 

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