The next election is almost two years away, yet cannabis activists in Missouri are already on the ground pushing for legalization.

missouri marijuana leaf
Missouri’s Secretary of State, Jason Kander, said in February that marijuana advocates could begin collecting voter signatures on their petition to legalize weed. If volunteers collect enough signatures, the question would go on the ballot in 2016.

That year will be a presidential election, expected to draw many more young voters, who tend to be more in favor of marijuana reform. Several states are expected to vote on legalization that year, including California, Maine and Arizona.

Advocates have yet to outline explicit rules for medical weed, such as how much people could possess it or the penalties for having too much. The proposed ballot initiative would legalize pot for recreational and medical use, regulate and tax the industry, and free small-time marijuana offenders.

Criminal records would be wiped

marijuanaIt would also wipe clean the criminal records of pot buyers and sellers. State officials estimate it would cost less than $1 million per year to run a regulatory program that would collect taxes for the state. Officials are predicting a rise in public health costs, though there’s little evidence to back this up, and a drop in criminal justice costs backed up by science.

“Possible sales tax revenue is unknown,” the petition reads. “The fiscal impact on local governments is unknown.”

Nicholas Raines of Kansas City, Mo., filed the paperwork to circulate the petition. Raines is president of the local chapter of NORML.

It’s not clear exactly how many signatures Raines will need to push his proposal onto the ballot. He must collect signatures equal to 8 percent of the vote in the 2012 gubernatorial election from six of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Signatures due May 2016

In other words, the total number of signatures needed could vary depending on which congressional district activists target. The signatures are due by May 8, 2016, giving organizers more than a year to circulate the petition and build up momentum in the run up to the election.

Once the signatures are returned, both the secretary of state and the attorney general must certify the initiative. The secretary of state would then draft a ballot summary, while the state auditor would report on the expected fiscal impact of the vote. Both of these officeholders are Democrats, making it at least somewhat more likely that the proposal will make it onto the ballot.

Missouri isn’t considered a strong bet for legalization in the next election, but advocates hope they can turn that perception around in coming months. Currently, possession of up to 35 grams is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Legalization would make a big difference there. What’s more, the new law would stop the racial profiling that leads to many pot busts in Missouri. The state’s black pot users are arrested at nearly three times as often as white stoners, even though both use weed at the same rates.


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