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Why red Missouri gave a green light to marijuana sales

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Missouri voters on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, approved a constitutional amendment to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults.

JEFFERSON CITY — Deep red Missouri is joining 20 other states that have legalized marijuana sales for adult use after Tuesday’s election.

Like the approval of Medicaid expansion in 2020 and the rejection of an anti-union right-to-work initiative in 2018, the win serves as another example of the state’s voters backing progressive issues, while putting conservative Republicans in office.

“I think what a lot of people fail to appreciate is that voters fundamentally view candidate races different than they do ballot initiatives,” said Jack Cardetti, a former aide to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon who helped run the pro-pot campaign.

He said voters put aside the tribal view of political parties when faced with questions on the ballot that could affect them personally.

“In effect, ballot initiatives are the most direct form of democracy and that’s a good thing,” Cardetti added.

In all, there were five states Tuesday that asked voters whether they desire legalization.

Along with Missouri, Maryland voters said “yes,” but similar measures were defeated in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Adult-use legalization laws have now been adopted in 21 states, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories, while an additional 16 states and two territories have legalized cannabis for medical use.

In Missouri, passage of the initiative crossed party lines.

Overall, the question in Missouri received 53% of the vote, according to unofficial tallies.

For some supporters in the St. Louis area, the question came down to the simple equation that if Illinois is selling legal weed, why not Missouri?

“Why should we have to go to the other side of the river? It’s time,” said Donna Sailor, 75, who attended an election night watch party at Ballpark Village on Tuesday.

In GOP-dominant St. Charles County, 55% of the voters favored legalization. Voters in Jefferson County, which has trended strongly red, voted “yes” 55% of the time.

Smaller counties chipped in to the winning tally. New Madrid County, in the state’s Bootheel region, saw 54% of its voters backing the measure. It won 51% of the vote in rural St. Francois County.

The victory came after the measure squeaked through the qualification process.

Supporters had trouble collecting enough signatures to get on the ballot. But Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, gave it the green light after initial counts from local officials showed canvassers had failed to collect enough signatures to qualify.

A lawsuit arguing Ashcroft’s decision was flawed failed to stop it.

In much of the state, rural Republican voters sided with opponents, who included the Missouri Republican Party, as well as local GOP state lawmakers.

While the medical pot industry shoveled more than $7 million into their campaign, opponents stitched together an unfunded, grassroots campaign to kill the amendment.

When the results became clear, Eapen Thampy, a pro-pot lobbyist who opposed the amendment, blamed the outcome on those dollars.

“Well it looks like the out-of-state marijuana companies bought an election and passed the corrupt Amendment 3 proposal that institutionalizes marijuana crimes and monopolies in the Missouri Constitution,” he tweeted Tuesday night.

Although pot will be legal, there will be limitations on possession. For nonmedical marijuana patients, the limit would be 3 ounces, while medical patients would be able to possess up to 6.

Additionally, fines could still be issued for smoking in public.

The amendment also includes a process for people to cleanse their court records for past cannabis-related convictions.

Someone currently on probation or parole for certain marijuana law violations, for example, would see their sentence automatically vacated and later expunged from their record.

And anyone incarcerated for certain marijuana offenses would be able to petition the court to vacate the sentence, as well as be immediately released from incarceration with their records expunged.

The state’s judicial branch has requested $4.5 million to help fund the expungement process at the local level.

Cardetti said the expungement model outlined in the amendment was a key reason it received support across party lines. In addition, he said it could become a model for other states seeking to legalize marijuana use.

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