Missouri criminal defense attorneys endorse marijuana legalization, expungement campaign  

Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers backs Legal Missouri 2022 citizens’ ballot initiative

A statewide legal group on Tuesday announced its support of Legal Missouri 2022, the citizens’ ballot initiative that conditions legalization of adult-use marijuana to an automatic expungement provision for most prior, non-violent offenses.

“The automatic expungement of non-violent marijuana offenses would be among the most significant — and overdue — criminal justice reforms in our state’s history,” said Fawzy Simon of Camdenton, president of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL).

“It’s a matter of basic fairness. Simply put, the legalization of marijuana for adult use must relieve otherwise law-abiding Missourians of the consequences of activity that is no longer considered criminal. In practical terms, this will provide a fresh start to tens of thousands of state residents.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow Missourians ages 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase, and cultivate marijuana. A 6 percent retail sales tax would generate estimated annual revenue of at least $40.8 million, with an optional municipal sales tax of up to 3 percent producing additional local government revenues of at least $13.8 million, a state fiscal analysis projects.

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

Simon called the surplus set-aside for Missouri State Public Defender services – plagued for years by staggering attorney caseloads and mounting client waitlists — critical to the group’s endorsement.

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.

Notably, Missourians would not have to petition the court to approve expungement requests. Among the 37 states that have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 to authorize adult use, just seven have automatic expungement.

“With criminal justice reform a centerpiece of our campaign, we welcome the support of MACDL, whose members know all too well how even years later, the stigma of a past arrest or conviction impacts housing, employment and more,” said John Payne, Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager.

Other organizations to endorse the ballot initiative so far include Empower Missouri, Reale Justice Network, Missouri NORML and the St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County chapters of the NAACP.

After an early December kickoff, campaign volunteers continue to collect voter signatures across the state, Payne said, with outreach efforts escalating ahead of an early May deadline to submit more than 170,000 valid signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

The Legal Missouri 2022 initiative also 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, 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.

A copy of the Legal Missouri 2022 petition can be found here.

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 among veterans’ services, drug addiction treatment, and Missouri’s underfunded public defender system.
  • Allows local governments to assess local sales taxes of up to 3 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 expense.
  • 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.
  •  Strengthens 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.
  • Provides employment discrimination protection for medical patients, preventing them from being denied employment or being disciplined or fired for off-the-job medical marijuana use.
  • 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.
  • 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 and manufacture cannabis products such as edibles, vape cartridges, topicals and concentrates.
  • 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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Paid for by Legal Missouri 2022, Paul Bocci, Treasurer.

Published by Greenway Magazine.