Fate of Missouri cannabis initiative unclear as signature count continues

Fate of Missouri cannabis initiative unclear as signature count continues

by Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent

Whether Missouri voters will get a chance to legalize recreational marijuana in November is still in question. 

The latest incomplete tabulations from Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office, obtained under a Sunshine Law request, show the Legal Missouri 2022 initiative is short of the necessary signatures in four of the six Congressional districts necessary to make the ballot.

And those same tabulations confirm what backers of a ranked-choice voting initiative called Better Elections said in June — their proposal will not be on the November ballot.

Related: Missouri House votes to require disclosure of medical cannabis ownership records

The biggest obstacles for the initiative campaigns was the COVID-19 pandemic that made signature gathering difficult and a large number of signatures from unregistered people, said  Sean Nicholson, campaign manager for Better Elections.

“It was a catastrophic failure on the part of Fieldworks,” Nicholson said of the Washington, D.C. firm paid more than $8 million total by the two campaigns to collect signatures. “We turned in signatures in the belief we had the stuff.”

Related: Lawmaker says GOP resistance may doom Missouri cannabis legalization

Fieldworks has managed several successful signature-gathering efforts in Missouri, including a 2020 proposal on Medicaid expansion and a 2018 referendum on right to work.

Fieldworks is also disappointed in the result, the company said in a statement to The Independent.

“We share our client’s frustration,” the statement said. “Signature gathering campaigns have faced unprecedented challenges in the last two years everywhere in the country. Our industry is not immune from the current workforce conditions.”

Related: Time running short for dueling Missouri cannabis legalization efforts

Each of the campaigns claimed when their signatures were submitted in May that they had far more signatures than necessary to make the ballot. Better Elections boasted more than 300,000 signatures and Legal Missouri said it had in excess of 385,000 signatures.

When Better Elections realized in June that it was unlikely to succeed, it issued a statement that the effort would be renewed in the future.

“Stay tuned,” spokesman Scott Charton said Monday, declining to discuss specific plans.

Related: With legalization looming, Black Missourians worry about losing out in cannabis industry

Legal Missouri expressed confidence that its initiative effort, where it boosted paid signature gathering with volunteers, would succeed. John Payne, Legal Missouri campaign manager, said he still expects the initiative to make the ballot.

“Having turned in nearly 400,000 signatures from Missourians who want to become the 20th state to regulate, tax and legalize cannabis, we are confident about being on this November’s ballot,” Payne said in a statement to The Independent.

Both the Legal Missouri and Better Elections initiatives were proposed constitutional amendments, meaning they needed signatures from registered voters equal to 8% of the vote from the 2020 gubernatorial election in each of six of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Related: Criticism of Missouri medical cannabis system seeps into initiative petition debate

Legal Missouri has sufficient signatures in the 1st District in St. Louis and St. Louis County, where validation is complete, and the 5th District, Kansas City and adjoining regions, where only Lafayette County has yet to report.

But it lacks the required signatures in the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th districts. In the 2nd and 3rd districts, St. Charles has not reported and could deliver enough signatures to be sufficient. But with 13 counties with tiny populations left to report in the 6th, and three counties in the 7th uncounted, both appear unlikely to obtain the almost 5,000 additional signatures needed in each district.

The bulk of the Legal Missouri effort in the 2nd and 3rd districts was in St. Charles County, Payne said,  and the campaign is confident it will return enough valid signatures to make up the difference in those two districts. In the other districts, he said, “the gap you are seeing at the moment is just because they haven’t reported their numbers yet. All of our signatures went through a rigorous quality control process, so we know what we have in each district.”

The Legal Missouri initiative would expand the current medical marijuana businesses program by allowing existing licensees to serve both medical and non-medical purchasers. There would be an additional 144 licenses for what will be known as “microbusiness facilities,” with six dispensaries and 12 wholesale facilities in each congressional district. It would also require expungement of marijuana offenses from criminal records.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: [email protected]. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.