Missouri’s New Legal Cannabis Campaign Centers Around Criminal Justice Reform

Missouri’s New Legal Cannabis Campaign Centers Around Criminal Justice Reform

Three years after overwhelmingly approving the use and sale of medical marijuana, Missouri could become the 20th state to authorize adult cannabis use. The proposed legislation would allow Missourians ages 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase, and cultivate marijuana and also places an emphasis on equity and social justice, something many states are thankfully taking into consideration as they pursue legalization and reform.

Legal Missouri 2022, a statewide coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, cannabis patients, and criminal justice reform advocates, filed a citizens’ ballot initiative that, in addition to legalizing adult recreational cannabis use, seeks to wipe clean the criminal records of state residents convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. “Missouri shouldn’t legalize marijuana without automatically expunging thousands of criminal records for marijuana offenses that will soon be legal,” said John Bowman, president of the St. Louis County NAACP, as reported in Greenway Magazine. “We enthusiastically support this ballot initiative, which will be the single largest criminal justice reform undertaken in Missouri and long overdue.”

The Legal Missouri 2022 initiative will also be looking to broaden legal cannabis industry participation from traditionally disadvantaged communities, such as residents in high-poverty communities, individuals convicted of non-violent, cannabis-related crimes, service-disabled veterans, and other categories. “Increasing social equity in this sector is right for Missouri, just as it’s right for the rest of our country,” said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis City NAACP.

A 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that in Missouri, even with comparable national usage rates, Blacks are 2.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. In Johnson, Lafayette, and Lincoln counties, Black people were over 10 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white peers, according to Greenway Magazine. “Cannabis reform is about more than establishing a safe and legal market. It is about righting the many wrongs prohibition has caused to our communities, especially to communities of color,” said Jamie Kacz, executive director of NORML KC.

A 6 percent retail sales tax would generate tens of millions of dollars in new state revenue annually. That money would be set aside for veterans’ healthcare, drug addiction treatment, and the state’s severely underfunded public defender system. “There’s widespread support among Missouri voters to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana,” said John Payne, Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager. “The status quo has allowed an unsafe, illegal market to thrive in Missouri while preventing law enforcement from truly prioritizing the fight against violent crime.”

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