COLUMBIA, Mo: Marijuana might be as easy to buy as alcohol in Missouri, if activist groups get enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot and voters approve it next year.
Missouri is following a nationwide trend with more and more states leaning toward legalizing the use of recreational and medical marijuana.
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, and it’s been just over a year since medical marijuana dispensaries opened in 2020.
While the opening of medical dispensaries in Missouri has made it more accessible, the stigma and lack of recreational use have prevented marijuana from becoming a more widely accepted product, according to activists.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Lance Lenau and Rita Yencarelli held signs and gathered signatures on the corner of East Broadway and North Tenth Street. Lenau and Yencarelli are signature gatherers for Legal Missouri 2022, a campaign to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adult use in the state.
This is just one of multiple campaigns working toward legalization in Missouri. The group is aiming to get around 178,000 signatures by May of next year in order to put the issue on the November 2022 ballot. Their initiative would allow adults 21 and older to purchase marijuana in a similar way to how adults can purchase alcohol.
The new initiative, if passed, would also permit home cultivation of marijuana. Growers would have to register with the state, and there would be a limit to how many plants they can have.
“Personal cultivation is a cornerstone of any marijuana law,” Lenau said. “Whether medical or recreational, if you don’t have home cultivation, that’s not a true marijuana law.”
In addition, the legalization would have a significant effect on Missouri residents with nonviolent marijuana offenses.
According to Lenau, those who were charged with possession of 3 pounds of marijuana or less could be expunged of their charges by a judge automatically.
The legislation would also allow local governments to implement up to a 3% tax on the sale of marijuana. Currently, there is a 4% tax on the sale of medical marjuana and revenue generated goes towards the Missouri Veterans Commission.
With this increasingly powerful push for the legalization of recreational marijuana, the fate of businesses in the current, more restricted market has come into question, including how medicinal disappearances plan to adapt.
Green Releaf is one of the newer medical marijuana dispensaries in Columbia, opening in March. Savannah Foos, a manager at Green Releaf, expressed excitement about the idea of recreational marijuana use being legalized and optimism that it might impact the role of her business in the market.
Foos believes medical marijuana acts as another option for users. She acknowledged the potential for more dispensaries popping up to impact demand, but ultimately thinks it would “ be good for the community and great for the stigma all around.”
“In most states that have medical and recreational, there’s a difference in the milligrams that are provided and different qualities,” she said. “There is a huge step from recreational, with less regulation to medical, highly regulated businesses.”
Green Releaf shows a trend in current marijuana-related businesses showing some hesitancy toward the market explosion that might come from recreational legalization, while also believing their corner of the market can continue to survive.
Miles Sansing is the manager of Hemp Hemp Hooray in Columbia. Sansing believes his business offers another approach to the issue with CBD, delta-8 cannabis products, and other hemp products.
Delta-8-THC is a popular cannabis derivative that contains less than 0.3% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana, but it produces some of the same physical effects as marijuana, according to consumers.
Hemp Hemp Hooray is working symbiotically with medicinal marijana distributors, and has gone as far as selling their delta-8 and CBD products at existing dispensaries. Sansing fully supports the idea of recreational marijuana being legalized in the state.
“I love the wholesale side of the business, as the barrier of entry is lower,” Sansing said. “There’s more doors for me to go knock on, and there’s more opportunity for me to meet people and expand our brand through other retailers.”
While the market is due to expand if the push for legalization is successful, local Missouri businesses are already planning to adapt and further carve out their share of the market as competition increases.
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