Gregory J. Holman
Springfield News-Leader

Call it "recreational," "rec" or "adult-use" — Missouri could be the next state to legalize marijuana.

In Kansas City and St. Louis over the past week, organizers of the Legal Missouri 2022 ballot initiative petition kicked off a campaign that, if authorized by Missouri voters, would allow any adult 21 or older to purchase cannabis products for any reason.

Recreational cannabis represents a huge business opportunity: In states that have already transitioned from medical-only marijuana systems to ones that include recreational sales for adults, industry revenues have typically expanded five-fold, said David Brodsky, director of retail at The Farmer's Wife dispensaries in southern Missouri. Brodsky also worked as a Colorado cannabis entrepreneur for much of the 2010s, and he said the pattern held up there, after adult-use sales were legalized in 2012.

To date, retail dispensaries in Missouri have racked up $186.1 million in sales since lawful transactions began in mid-October 2020, state health department records show.

Most observers see little appetite for marijuana reform advancing through the Republican-dominated Missouri legislature, so advocates have worked through the initiative petition system.

How would Legal Missouri 2022's measure change Missouri marijuana?

Two years after Missouri voters authorized medical marijuana, patients lined up at opening day for Old Route 66 Wellness dispensary in Springfield on Nov. 2, 2020. On Dec. 1, 2021, organizers of a Missouri initiative petition kicked off a campaign to legalize recreational cannabis in the Show-Me State.

Missouri's existing medical marijuana system, adopted with a 65-percent voter majority in 2018, would remain in place if legalization becomes part of the Missouri constitution.

But the medical program would be modified: Marijuana patient ID cards would be valid for three years, rather than one year, and the state fee for a card would be set around $25. 

Nurse practitioners, along with physicians, would be allowed to issue patient recommendations for medical marijuana ID cards. Campaign manager John Payne told the News-Leader in a Friday interview that this aspect would likely drive down the cost of the recommendations, often priced at $100 or more.

The measure includes numerous other tweaks to the medical program:

  • Rules for marijuana advertising and promotion couldn't be more stringent than similar rules for alcohol advertising and promotion.
  • It limits the ways prior felony convictions could disqualify potential owners of Missouri-licensed cannabis businesses.
  • It expands definitions of infused marijuana products, to allow for wider variety of offerings to permitted medical patients.
  • It also closes "proprietary business information" records from license applicants or owners from scrutiny under the Sunshine Law, effective Dec. 8, 2022.

The measure includes numerous other tweaks to the medical program:

  • Rules for marijuana advertising and promotion couldn't be more stringent than similar rules for alcohol advertising and promotion.
  • It limits the ways prior felony convictions could disqualify potential owners of Missouri-licensed cannabis businesses.
  • It expands definitions of infused marijuana products, to allow for wider variety of offerings to permitted medical patients.
  • It also closes "proprietary business information" records from license applicants or owners from scrutiny under the Sunshine Law, effective Dec. 8, 2022.

"We wanted to create a class of licenses that were smaller, that were more within the range of somebody that's a small business owner," Payne said. "Because of federal prohibition, you can't go get a bank loan. You really have to have that capital." 

Payne added, "There should be some equity given back to those folks" harmed by marijuana prohibition.

2022 election cycle dynamics

Legal Missouri 2022 is backed by the state's main cannabis industry association, MoCannTrade, and the coalition behind the New Approach campaign that pushed for medical marijuana three years ago, Payne acknowledged Friday: "This is definitely something our coalition has been working on for a while."

Expect to see workers gathering signatures from registered voters in at least 150 dispensaries and other sites throughout Missouri, Payne said, including in Springfield, Branson, Joplin, Carthage and elsewhere in the Ozarks. Payne's group must collect roughly 170,000 voter signatures by May 3 to get the measure onto the Nov. 2022 ballot, in time for the same midterm election in which Missouri voters will choose a replacement for retiring Sen. Roy Blunt. 

Payne said he did not know the number of signatures collected so far but reports from signature-gathering sites indicate as many as 30 to 40 coming in each day. A previous effort to gather signatures for a recreational marijuana measure for the Nov. 2020 ballot failed in mid-April of that year due to coronavirus lockdowns, but Payne did not anticipate major issues due to the pandemic this time.

Brodsky, the dispensary executive at The Farmer's Wife in Springfield, said that if this campaign is successful, he doesn't believe most patients already familiar with Missouri dispensaries will notice much of a difference when they buy products.

Other states have required dispensaries to create separate spaces for medical patients and recreational consumers; this proposed measure doesn't, he said. "If you're a medical patient, you might have a few more products available to you that an adult-use patient might not have available, like a high-dose edible, that kind of thing."

Another initiative petition, Fair Access Missouri, was filed over the summer around the same time as the Legal Missouri 2022 measure. Describing itself as "grassroots," Fair Access advocates for a more "open-market, low-tax" approach with "cannabis regulated like alcohol."

"We're trying to get average citizens who have some experience with cannabis their shot in the industry," said Josh Loftis, a Springfield cannabis-growing consultant involved with Fair Access Missouri, shortly after Fair Access filed a petition initiative with the Missouri Secretary of State's office back in July, about a month before Legal Missouri filed theirs. 

It's an open question whether there will be a hot competition among competing legalization measures, as there was with medical marijuana during the 2018 election cycle. That election featured three competing versions of medical marijuana reform seeking voter support; the New Approach camp won the most votes.

Missouri Ethics Commission quarterly reports show that Legal Missouri 2022 has spent more than $279,000 this election cycle, while Fair Access Missouri spent roughly $92,000.

Reach News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by emailing [email protected] Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.