In November, Missouri will vote on Amendment 3, which, if passed, will legalize the recreational possession of marijuana in the state. Currently, 19 states and Washington, D.C. allow recreational pot, with the possibility of more on the ballot this year. But ironically, the Missouri initiative is getting pushback even from otherwise-sympathetic sources.
Amendment 3 is sponsored by Legal Missouri 2022, a marijuana advocacy group. According to the group's website, the proposed initiative would "legalize adult-use marijuana," "boost state tax revenues," and reduce the "illicit market" for weed. As written, the proposal would remove state laws against "purchasing, possessing, consuming, using, delivering, manufacturing, and selling" marijuana for adults 21 and older. It would also allow anyone convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to petition for expungement and, if necessary, release from incarceration, parole, or probation. Sales would be taxed at 6 percent, and Missourians would be limited to 3 ounces for personal use.
Earlier this week, despite supporting legalization, the Libertarian Party of Missouri voted overwhelmingly against endorsing the measure. Chairman Bill Slantz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "We just don't believe that any government at any level should have any legislation against drugs."
Slantz singled out the complexity of the initiative's language, saying "The fewer the words, the better off we are." Specifically, he cited the 3-ounce cap as undermining the goal of legalization: "If you have 3.2 ounces or 3.1 ounces…has the scale been…checked to make sure it's accurate?"
Notably, Slantz indicated that while the party made no endorsement, he would be voting for the measure personally. Jonathan Dine, the party's candidate for Senate, indicated his support as well.
Earlier this month, the Democratic Party of Missouri also declined to endorse the proposal, citing the complicated expungement provisions and the manner in which it would allocate licenses for marijuana businesses. The party worried that Amendment 3 "may negatively impact minorities, people of color, and low-income earning Missourians." Like the state Libertarian Party, the Democrats support legalization in general, and some party leaders indicated they would be voting for it.
Dan Viets, a Missouri attorney and chair of Legal Missouri 2022's advisory board, tells Reason that both parties are "making a big mistake" by not endorsing Amendment 3. He cited its support by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and "at least four NAACP chapters" as evidence of its appeal to those who favor both legalization and anti-racism.
As for the 3-ounce limit, Viets says that there is an irony in the Libertarian Party's opposition to it: "Most legal states do not allow as much as 3 ounces." Indeed, of the 19 states, plus D.C., that allow recreational use, only six—Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island—allow at least 3 ounces of recreational pot.
Viets admits that the limit was a compromise: "The reason for limits in general is that we hope to actually pass this law… Certainly, there are compromises in Amendment 3, and they're there so it will pass."
Despite the major parties' neutrality, and opposition from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, the measure looks likely to pass: A recent poll showed 62 percent of Missourians support legalization, including "double digits [support] among all demographic groups."
As more and more states soften their marijuana laws to varying degrees, Amendment 3 provides an interesting consideration: Is an imperfect bill that still gets nonviolent drug offenders out of jail and prevents convicting new ones better than no bill at all?
For his part, Viets says, "You can't expect to get everything you want all at once, and if you don't take the progress that you can achieve, you never make any progress."