JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – One week from Tuesday, Missouri voters will get to decide if marijuana should be legal for anyone 21 and older.
The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) doesn’t have a stance on whether Amendment 3 on the November ballot passes or fails but would be required to put the program into effect. But if the measure is approved by voters, how soon could Missourians buy recreational marijuana, and how is the state preparing to roll out the program?
“We don’t have an opinion on this whole thing,” Missouri’s medical marijuana director Lyndall Fraker said. “All we want to do is administer the law.”
Next Tuesday, Missouri could join 19 other states in legalizing recreational marijuana. It was four years ago that voters approved medical marijuana, sending tax revenue to veterans’ healthcare services.
“We have turned over almost $27 million to the veterans’ commission,” Fraker said.
Overall, the industry has brought in more than $500 million dollars in sales since launching in Oct. 2020. Fraker said there are about 204,000 patients and 3,000 caregivers that have licenses in Missouri.
“The constitution said we should have at least 60 cultivation facilities, 86 manufacturing facilities and 192 dispensaries and at least two testing labs,” Fraker said. “We’re close, we’re in the 90-plus percentile there, but we are above the minimum for dispensaries. We still have about 11 cultivation facilities that still are working to open their doors.”
Amendment 3, which will appear on all statewide ballots, consists of the following language:
“Do you want to amend the Missouri Constitution to:
- remove state prohibitions on purchasing, possessing, consuming, using, delivering, manufacturing, and selling marijuana for personal use for adults over the age of twenty-one;
- require a registration card for personal cultivation with prescribed limits;
- allow persons with certain marijuana-related non-violent offenses to petition for release from incarceration or parole and probation and have records expunged;
- establish a lottery selection process to award licenses and certificates;
- issue equally distributed licenses to each congressional district; and
- impose a 6% tax on the retail price of marijuana to benefit various programs?
Legal Missouri 22 is behind the initiative petition. Campaign manager John Payne has previously said Legal Missouri 22 collected 400,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office certified 215,000 of the signatures. If approved by voters, it would amend the state’s constitution; similar to medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion.
“We’re trying to get all of our ducks in a row there,” Fraker said. “There’s a lot of work to do with upgrading the software, the IT systems that have to be in place to accommodate all the different types of licenses. We’re certainly looking at the staffing that we have to administer and inspect and keep compliance up.”
Fraker said the medical marijuana program under DHSS currently has roughly 57 employees. If Amendment 3 passes next week, he expects that number to double.
“We have to anticipate that it will pass. We don’t know, but we want to be ready if it does,” Fraker said.
If passed on Nov. 8, medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation facilities, and manufacturing licensees would first be given the chance to apply for a comprehensive license to sell both medical and recreational marijuana; after that, a lottery system would be used for an additional 144 micro-licenses.
“That’s six licenses times the eight congressional districts, which will be 48 in three different ways, and within those, there will be four dispensary licenses and two cultivation, manufacturing licenses that will be issued,” Fraker said. “If you’re a micro-cultivator, you won’t be able to sell to one of the existing dispensaries, one of the comprehensive dispensaries, you’ll be able to sell to the dispensary within that micro-license category.”
Under the micro-license, Fraker said cultivation facilities will be able to grow up to 250 plants. He said the window to apply for a micro-license will be coming at a later date if the voters approve Amendment 3.
“Is there a difference between medical product and adult-use product?,” Fraker said. “No, there is no difference, the only difference is at the point of sale.”
That’s because under the medical marijuana program, patients are taxed at 4% while the initiative petition says recreational marijuana products would have a 6% sales tax, estimated to bring in $40 million for the state.
According to the amendment, 2% of the 6% sales tax will be going to the “Veterans, Health and Community Reinvestment Fund,” then one third of the remaining balance will be transferred to the Missouri Veterans Commission, another third then goes to the Missouri State Public Defender program and the remaining portion goes to DHSS to provide grants to increase education and resources for drug addiction treatment and overdose prevention.
Local municipalities are also allowed to tax recreational marijuana up to 3%.
The referendum would allow those 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of marijuana and have up to six flowering plants, six clones, and six seedlings. It also would expunge non-violent offenses.
Legal Missouri 22 said the vast majority of people who have a non-violent offense are getting simple possession citations or arrests for possession of less than 35 grams. Allowing Missourians 21 and older to possess up to three ounces at a time would be the second-highest possession limit in the country.
As for when could Missourians 21 and older purchase recreational marijuana if approved by voters? Fraker believes it will be sometime in February of 2023. He said the state has 30 days after it’s passed to release rules and regulations, then dispensaries, cultivation facilities, and manufacturers have 60 days to apply for their licenses.
“It would be after Feb. 8 for sure,” Fraker said. “It’s certainly going to be faster, and you might say easier, because we already have a program in place, which we had to establish in about five months.”
The referendum also includes revisions to the medical marijuana program.
“The patient renewal period goes from one year to three years,” Fraker said. “Now they are paying $25 for one year, it will be $25 for three years, so they will only have to have their doctor’s certification done every three years.”
The revisions also would allow nurse practitioners to certify a patient’s medical marijuana card instead of just a physician.
Here’s the link to the full version of the constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.