JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri voters will get to decide Tuesday if recreational marijuana should be legal for those 21 and older.
Besides bringing more jobs to the state, Amendment 3, if approved, is estimated to bring in millions of dollars in revenue. While cultivators, manufacturers, and dispensary owners are asking voters to vote “Yes” on the referendum, the state’s top leader opposes it.
“I don’t think the timing is right, right now, but we will see what happens,” said Gov. Mike Parson.
Parson has previously criticized the amendment, calling it a disaster. Legal Missouri 22 is the campaign behind the initiative petition asking voters if those 21 and older should be allowed to buy, growth and use recreational marijuana.
“We know that we’ve got a problem out there with mental health issues, we’re talking about substance abuse,” Parson said. “I’m not sure adding something else to that at this point is a very wise decision to do that.”
Amendment 3, which will appear on all statewide ballots, consists of the following language:
“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 6% tax on the retail price of marijuana to benefit various programs?
Legal Missouri 22 said the vast majority of people who have a non-violent offense are getting simple possession citations or arrests for possession of less than 35 grams. Allowing Missourians 21 and older to possess up to three ounces at a time would be the second highest possession limit in the country.
Susan Griffith is one of the owners of CAMP Cannabis, a cultivation facility in St. Louis. After her and her partner received their medical marijuana license in 2018, she wants to expand the company.
“We’re statewide now,” Griffith said. “We’re growing daily, we’re getting new orders every day.”
CAMP is currently using about 40,000 square feet of the 100,000 square foot facility. The company grows 26 different cannabis strains, but only 10 are sold statewide.
“As we build out, certainly once we start adding our rooms, if we have 33 employees right now with four rooms, when we get to 12 rooms, we’re anticipating close to 100 employees and that’s really just for the cultivation area,” Griffith said.
She sat on the drafting committee for Amendment 3, which would tax recreational marijuana at a higher rate than medical. Currently, medical patients pay 4% in sales tax. If approved by voters, recreational pot would be taxed 6% and then municipalities could add another 3%.
“There are people in our state who travel out of our state to buy product and pay exorbitant amounts, and they can stay here now,” Griffith said.
Griffith said she and others in the industry want to compete with states like Illinois, which already approved recreational use. In the Land of Lincoln, products that are bought for recreational use are taxed based on the amount of THC.
“A lot of people come across the river for gas, tobacco and liquor and I believe that we will also gain a lot of consumers in that regard as well,” Griffth said.
The two female partners who own CAMP Cannabis were both previously in the medical field. After voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, Griffith said they wanted to be part of the industry.
“My partner and I both have witnessed and have friends who have used medical cannabis to help aliments, and they were aliments that they had tried everything and had been put on significant doses of pharmaceuticals that were causing side effects,” Griffith said. “We watched one little girl go from having over 300 seizures a day down to a couple a month. To be able to see that and see the benefit of that and think why this is so bad when it’s having such great effects on people.”
Under current state law, each cultivation facility is allowed to have 30,000 square feet of flowering plants. Griffith said they also have 10,000 square feet dedicated to CAMP’s manufacturing facility.
“We also plan to add space for a research and development program because we would really like to get into doing our own breeding,” Griffith said. “The generics we have are exceptionally hard to find if not impossible near here, so we would like to be able to take those genetics and make genetics of our own.”
Griffith said CAMP was just given its first dispensary license, which will be located in the third Congressional District which includes parts of St. Charles, Jefferson, Miller and Cole counties. If passed on Nov. 8, medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation facilities, and manufacturing licensees would first be given the chance to apply for a comprehensive license to sell both medical and recreational marijuana; after that, a lottery system would be used for an additional 144 micro-licenses, but those awarded the smaller business license would have restrictions on who they can sell their product too.
According to the amendment, those 144 micro-licenses would be released in three different waves, giving six licenses out in the eight congressional districts at a time. Under the micro-license, cultivation facilities will be able to grow up to 250 plants.
Jason Nelson is the chief executive officer for BeLeaf Medical, which operates three production sites, two manufacturing facilities and five retail locations in the St. Louis area. If approved, he said BeLeaf Medical would double its number of employees and help the state from a public health point of view.
“Or they [Missourians] can participate in illicit market purchases, and we know that unfortunately illicit-market purchases carry consumptive danger that there could be contaminated of that product since it’s not tested,” Nelson said.
He said his company has a plan if the referendum passes for medical patients. Those with a medical card would receive what he calls a “VIP experience.”
“Right off the top we’re putting in a fast line, easy online pickup, online pickup with delivery is an option to make sure that medical patients are still empowered to participate in the market,” Nelson said.
He hopes that some Illinois residents will make their way over to the Show-Me State to buy recreational pot, since the tax rate will be cheaper.
“You can buy 3.5 grams of flower in this shop right now for anywhere in the ballpark between $15 to $25, all the way up to $50,” Nelson said. “That same 3.5 grams tested flower you can jump across the river to Illinois and be in the ballpark of $60 to $80 with or without tax.”
Legal Missouri 22 is behind the initiative petition. Campaign manager John Payne has previously said Legal Missouri 22 collected 400,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office certified 215,000 of the signatures. If approved by voters, it would amend the state’s constitution, similar to medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion.
Since the medical marijuana industry opened up for patients two years ago, the state has brought in roughly $495 million, sending about 5% of that, about $27 million, to veterans’ healthcare services. The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said there are about 204,000 patients and 3,000 caregivers that have licenses in Missouri.
DHSS doesn’t have a stance on whether Amendment 3 on the November ballot passes or fails, but would be required to put the program into effect. But if the measure is approved by voters, how soon could Missourians buy recreational marijuana, and how is the state preparing to roll out the program?
As for when could Missourians 21 and older purchase recreational marijuana if approved by voters? DHSS believes it will be sometime in February 2023. The state has 30 days after it’s passed to release rules and regulations, then dispensaries, cultivation facilities and manufacturers have 60 days to apply for their licenses.
The referendum also includes revisions to the medical marijuana program. If approved, Amendment 3 would lengthen the amount of time medical marijuana cards are valid. Currently, medical cards are only good for one year, but if the initiative passes, they would be good for three years and the cost would remain at $25.
It also expands the amount of medical marijuana a patient can buy from 4 ounces of dried marijuana flower to 6 ounces a month. The revisions also include allowing a nurse practitioner to certify a patient’s medical marijuana card instead of just a physician.
The Missouri NAACP is asking voters to vote “No” on the ballot, saying approving recreational marijuana would not diversify the industry. In the 40-page amendment document, it says if it’s approved by voters, a “chief equity officer” would establish a program dedicated to communities that have been impacted by marijuana prohibition on the licensing process and offer resources to those interested in a license.
To read the full version of the constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana, click here.