A growing number of groups and individuals supporting legalized recreational marijuana in Missouri are not supporting approval of Amendment 3, which will be on the state’s ballot on Nov. 8.
Missouri Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove supports legalizing recreational marijuana in Missouri, but she’s not supporting Missouri Amendment 3 and she’s encouraging others to do the same.
“I’m truly for legalization, but this is not the way,” said Bland Manlove, who says this bill just reinforces and builds upon all the problems in the state’s medical marijuana program.
Manlove has formed the organization Impactful Canna Reform Coalition to fight passage of the amendment. Joining the group in opposing the measure are: Show Me Canna Freedom, Missouri Marijuana Legislative Movement, Missouri Deserves Better, and a growing bipartisan list of Missouri legislators.
While their problems with Amendment 3 vary, consistent themes include a new fine for smoking marijuana in public and an expungement program they believe is not well thought out, won’t be effective and does little to help those impacted by the nation’s decades-long war against drugs.
Bland Manlove and many others, especially other elected officials, say they’d prefer passing legislation as a path to making recreational marijuana legal. Instead, the ballot initiative changes the constitution, and once the amendment is passed, it becomes law as written. Changing the constitution, unlike changing a statute, is almost impossible. So, Missourians will pretty much be stuck with any problems that might come up.
In addition, Bland Manlove and most African Americans opposing Amendment 3 are concerned the amendment’s plan for the Black community’s economic participation in the state’s marijuana industry is constrained by Amendment 3. They say the amendment gives existing marijuana businesses in the state an unfair advantage.
The amendment “doesn’t benefit anyone but those in the industry,” said Bland Manlove.
When Missouri passed the medical marijuana ballot initiative in 2018, the voters had their choice of three unique options.
“Now, we’re only voting for one version of recreation, and why are we leaving it up to the people who jacked up the medical marijuana program?” questioned Bland Manlove.
Legal Missouri 2022
Bland Manlove is right, the group behind the amendment that will be on the ballot Nov. 8 is the same group that was behind the medical marijuana initiative passed in 2018, which has not been without problems and lawsuits.
The initiative appeals to those who want legal access to cannabis without a medical card and to those who appreciate the additional tax revenue for the state. If passed, the initiative would amend the state constitution to legalize and regulate the cultivation, sale, possession and consumption of cannabis for people aged 21 and older.
By a vote of its residents, local jurisdictions could opt out of the recreational sales. After those basics, groups opposing the bill don’t agree on much about the initiative.
As it currently stands in Missouri, you can’t smoke in public unless the property owner or tenant says you can. Amendment 3 adds a fine for smoking both medical and recreational marijuana in public. That concerns a lot of individuals, particularly those who are Black and Brown who are used to a history of disproportionate contact with police.
“I feel like it gives law enforcement more prowess to go and enforce it [smoking in public], and if they’re enforcing it, there’s probably something else going on, which is going to lead to a trigger, which is going to lead to an escalation, which is going to lead to George Floyd,” said Bland Manlove. “It doesn’t make sense. You get rid of a charge and then you create a new charge.”
Expungement of Marijuana Charges
Amendment 3 includes automatic expungement for certain people who have nonviolent marijuana-related offenses on their record. People who are still incarcerated would have to petition the courts to be released and have their records expunged. The initiative calls for the use of revenue from a 6% sales tax on recreational sales to be used to help facilitate the expungement program.
Bland Manlove says that sounds good, but the devil is in the details.
While the initiative gets rid of basic marijuana charges, it does nothing to eliminate related charges. Often, individuals aren’t just charged for marijuana possession, but additional related charges, such as having drug paraphernalia, and as Bland-Manlove mentioned, these arrests often escalate and as a result include additional charges that aren’t addressed by this bill.
So, Bland Manlove does not believe the benefits of this expungement program will be as wide-sweeping as many anticipate. In addition, she says, expungement is the minimum that should be done for those impacted by the country’s war on drugs.
The Marijuana Freedom Act, a bill to legalize recreational marijuana that was worked during the 2022 Missouri legislative session, included a clear process for expungements, something that’s not so clear in Amendment 3. In addition, the bill specifically said police can’t use the odor of marijuana as a reason for a search and that the use of cannabis cannot be used as a factor in family court.
Bland Manlove wants more help for those impacted by marijuana drug arrests, like reentry programs and other reparative policies.
Across the country, and Missouri was not an exception, African-American participation in the business side of marijuana legalization has not panned out, despite measures built into laws that were designed to help ensure more equitable participation. Despite efforts by the Missouri Black Legislative Caucus to ensure strong minority participation efforts in Missouri’s marijuana business, only one of the state’s original medical marijuana dispensary licenses went to a Black-owned business.
“The industry is growing, but our involvement is not,” said Brennan England, state director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, an advocacy organization for cannabis legalization.
Amendment 3 compounds this problem by giving businesses licensed under the state’s medical marijuana laws first dibs on recreational marijuana licenses. Legal Missouri 2022 proposes 144 new micro-businesses licenses that would be issued through a lottery system with priority given to low-income applicants and people who have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.
That’s another one of those things Bland Manlove says appears good on the surface but shows problems after digging deeper. Under the initiative, the amount of marijuana these businesses can move limits their ability to make money. The bill also limits individuals to one micro-business license while there are no limits on ownership for another licensee, literally tying these small business owners’ hands, says Bland Manlove
The Marijuana Freedom Act, the bill worked in the Legislature, proposed establishing a loan program to help small marijuana businesses get up and going. This would be helpful, especially since federal law limits banking institutions’ interaction with money generated from what is still an illegal business under federal law.
Finally, there’s a large debate on the right number of dispensaries to license. The state decided early on to only issue the minimum licenses allowed under the medical marijuana initiative, 192 dispensaries, 86 manufacturers and 60 cultivators. That number, some say, creates a virtual monopoly for these businesses.
There are groups pushing for no cap on the number of licenses, similar to a plan implemented in Oklahoma that has resulted in what some see as an over-saturation of marijuana businesses, with many of them struggling to remain financially viable.
No one is quite sure what the right balance of licenses is, but if Amendment 3 passes, it will certainly limit the ability to change the rules for licensing.
Bland Manlove says she gets why recreational marijuana is being proposed as a ballot initiative, because the likelihood of the Missouri Legislature passing recreational marijuana is pretty slim. However, she says, let’s pass a better amendment than this one.
“They’re counting on Black and Brown people and young White kids hearing ‘legal marijuana’ and ‘expungement’ and that’s all you have to say,” said Bland Manlove. “There’s a lot of bipartisan people that see what’s wrong with Legal Missouri. We might be mad for different reasons, but a lot of us are mad about that.”