Nevil Patel

Nevil Patel, pictured recently at his Shangri La dispensary on Peachtree Drive in Columbia.

The campaign to give Missouri voters an opportunity to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use is building its base of volunteers while ramping up its collection of petition signatures across the state.

Hundreds of trained signature collectors are volunteering throughout Missouri to get the signatures necessary to put the question on the November 2022 ballot, said Legal Missouri 2022 campaign director John Payne.

“Signature by signature, our statewide coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, cannabis patients and criminal justice reform advocates hears the same message from Missouri voters: it’s past time to end the senseless and costly prohibition of marijuana,” he said.

“Criminal justice reform is a centerpiece of our campaign, which aims to provide a fresh start to tens of thousands of state residents whose criminal records would be wiped clean of low-level marijuana offenses through automatic expungement,” Payne said.

john payne

John Payne

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow Missourians ages 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase and cultivate marijuana. A six-percent retail sales tax would generate estimated annual state revenues of at least $40.8 million and additional local government revenues of at least $13.8 million.

That money, in turn, would cover program costs including expungement, with surplus funds reserved for veterans’ healthcare, drug addiction treatment and the state’s severely underfunded public defender system.

The automatic expungement provision doesn’t apply to violent offenders or those whose offenses involved distribution to a minor or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

Nor would it require Missourians to petition the court for such a change. Among the 37 states that have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 to authorize adult use, just seven have such a process.

“As others have noted, Missouri shouldn’t legalize marijuana without automatically expunging the thousands of criminal records for marijuana offenses that will soon be legal,” said Sarah Owsley, policy and advocacy director for Empower Missouri. “Our organization stands firmly in support of this sorely needed ballot initiative.”

“Recent research shows that Blacks are 2.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Missouri – even though their national marijuana usage rates are comparable,” she said. “Nonviolent marijuana arrests are clogging prisons, wasting taxpayer dollars and keeping far too many people of color from fully pursuing their chances to live the American dream.”

Payne noted the widespread support among Missouri voters to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana, consistent with a new Rasmussen Reports national survey showing support among 62 percent of American adults.

In 2018, Missouri voters agreed to allow the use and sale of medical cannabis in the state constitution. The state Department of Health and Senior Services has since issued nearly 160,000 medical cannabis cards to Missouri patients and caregivers, a participation rate significantly higher than early estimates.

The state tallied more than $160 million in medical cannabis sales from late October 2020, when sales began, through October of this year.

Legal Missouri 2022 is largely the same political apparatus that got the medical cannabis amendment passed and is now bolstered by about 140 new medical marijuana dispensary owners ready to get into the recreational business.

“Anybody who is in medical marijuana would also be involved in recreational,” said Nevil Patel of Columbia, who owns and operates the Shangri-La dispensaries in Columbia and Jefferson City. “It only makes sense. We have everything in place to automatically also become recreational. Otherwise, it would take two years to get recreational even started.”

The proposal isn’t without its critics, even among supporters of legalization. The rollout of the medical marijuana program in 2019-2020 became controversial after the state limited licenses and hired a third-party scorer to grade applications. The process lacked transparency. Then national chains and board members of key trade groups ended up winning many of the licenses. Several lawsuits followed and are still pending. Critics also claimed the burdensome application process and high licensing fees worked to exclude many from receiving licenses.

Patel said he understands but disagrees with the critics. His own journey stands as his example. He and his wife, a Jefferson City physician, grew up in Jefferson City and Columbia. He graduated from Rockbridge High School, ended up with an MBA from Columbia College, and entered his father’s local convenience store business.

“Years ago, I told myself that when legalization of marijuana came around it was an opportunity I wanted to explore,” Patel said. “I studied the application process, I went to industry meetings, I learned.”

The three Shangri La dispensaries are 100-percent owned by his family, residing entirely in Jefferson City and Columbia.

The Legal Missouri 2022 initiative does seek to broaden participation in the legal cannabis industry by small business owners and among historically disadvantaged populations, including those with limited capital, residents of high-poverty communities, service-disabled veterans and those previously convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses, among other categories.

A new category of cannabis licenses reserved for small businesses would, over time, add a minimum of 144 licensed facilities to the existing 378 licensed and certified cannabis businesses in the state: 18 in each of the state’s eight congressional districts, with at least six per district operating as dispensaries and the remainder designated as wholesale facilities, a new category that allows operators to both cultivate the plant and manufacture cannabis products. The new license holders would be selected at random, by lottery.

Petition Highlights:

• Allows Missourians 21 years and older to possess, purchase, consume and cultivate marijuana.

• Levies state taxes of 6 percent on retail sales of marijuana. New revenue funds regulatory program and costs to process automatic expungements, with the surplus split equally between veterans’ healthcare, drug addiction treatment, and Missouri’s underfunded public defender system.

• Allows local governments to assess local sales taxes of up to four percent.

• Allows Missourians with nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to automatically expunge their criminal records. Most similar programs in other states require those seeking to vacate their convictions to first petition the courts, adding time and expenses. Violent offenders and those whose offenses involved distribution to a minor or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana would be ineligible for expungement.

• Allows local communities to opt out of adult use retail marijuana sales through a vote of the people.

• Strengthen Missouri’s medical marijuana program. The petition extends the amount of time that medical marijuana patient and caregiver ID cards are valid from one to three years while keeping that cost low ($25). And the current $100 fee for Missourians who choose to grow medical marijuana at home will be reduced by half, with the expiration period also extended from one to three years.

• Seeks to broaden participation in the legal cannabis industry by small business owners and among historically disadvantaged populations, including those with limited capital, residents of high-poverty communities, service-disabled veterans and those previously convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses. This new category of business license holders would have to meet at least one of the following requirements: Have a net worth of less than $250,000 and income below 250 percent of the federal poverty level for at least 3 of the previous 10 years; Have a valid service-connected disability card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted of a non-violent marijuana offense, or be the parent, guardian or spouse of such a person; Live in a ZIP code or Census tract with high poverty, unemployment, marijuana imprisonment rates; Graduated from an unaccredited school district or lives in a ZIP code with such a district for at least three of the past five years.

• Adds a minimum of 144 of these new small businesses to the existing 378 licensed and certified cannabis businesses in the state. To ensure statewide access, 18 of these new businesses will be added in each of the state’s eight congressional districts over time. At least six of those new businesses in each district must operate as dispensaries. The remainder will be designated as wholesale facilities, a new category that allows operators to both cultivate the plant. Existing license holders would have the opportunity to quickly convert their medical-only facilities to businesses serving both medical patients and adult consumers, which will immediately reduce sales on the illicit market.

• All new license holders will be selected at random, by lottery.

• Adds nurse practitioners to the category of healthcare professionals who can issue medical cannabis recommendations to patients.

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