Missouri activists recently took down and reedited ads promoting their marijuana legalization ballot initiative following a challenge from a state law enforcement agency.
The original ads released by Legal Missouri 2022 this month featured b-roll of law enforcement officers, one entering a police car and another on a motorcycle. But the Missouri State Highway Patrol sent the campaign a cease-and-desist letter seeking the ad’s removal, saying advocates did not have permission to use the agency’s emblem.
The campaign complied, removing the digital ads late last week, before uploading two new versions that still show police vehicles and depictions of a police officer—but without any identifiable insignia.
The narration of the updated ad is the same as the original. Titled “Our Turn,” it points out that 19 states have elected to legalize cannabis for adult use.
“Now it’s our turn, Missouri,” it says. “A vote yes on Amendment 3 is a vote to let police focus on serious crime and give millions in new funding to veteran’s health care. For our police, for our vets: vote yes on 3.”
There’s also a 30-second version of the ad that has the same voiceover but more b-roll.
The conflict over the promotional materials speaks to a broader trend that’s emerged this election cycle, with activists hoping to win votes by touting how legalization could provide law enforcement with tax revenue and minimize the use of resources to go after people over cannabis while police have resisted being associated with the reform.
When the original ads were released, the state patrol released a statement saying that it’s “aware of Legal Missouri 2022’s advertisement featuring the Patrol” and that it “did not give its permission for its emblem, name, or images to be used nor was permission sought.”
Relatedly, a marijuana legalization campaign in Arkansas has emphasized how tax revenue from marijuana sales would be allocated if voters approved the initiative, focusing on tax dollars that would go toward law enforcement in the state.
One ad that talked about that revenue and featured video of a person in a police uniform faced criticism from the Little Rock Police Department. The city asked that the ad be removed, but the campaign declined to do so, arguing that it did not depict any specific department’s insignia.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), a former Drug Enforcement Administration head, previously suggested it was a given that the measure would end up before voters and urged police to help campaign against it.
Back in Missouri, activists might be facing resistance from prohibitionists and certain legalization activists who take issue with the specifics of the initiative, but the campaign has raised a sizable bucket of contributions, totaling almost $700,000 in large donations since the beginning of the month alone.
A poll released late last month found that a plurality of very likely Missouri voters support the marijuana legalization initiative, but it also shows that nearly one out of five people are still undecided on the measure.
There’s been mixed polling on the Legal Missouri 2022 measure since the state certified it for the ballot, and this survey falls somewhere near the middle. It was conducted about a week after a separate firm released a survey that found 62 percent of Missouri likely voters are “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3.
The latest survey is more encouraging for the campaign than one from Remington Research Group and Missouri Scout that found just 43 percent of likely voters favor the initiative.
However, as Legal Missouri 2022 was quick to point out, the same firm behind that survey previously missed the mark when it found just slim support for a 2018 medical cannabis ballot measure that ultimately passed overwhelmingly.
Throughout this election year, the campaign has battled legal challenges and continues to face opposition not just from prohibitionists but also a coalition of reform advocates who have taken issue with the particulars of the proposal.
Even the Missouri Democratic Party is taking a neutral position on the measure in light of those concerns, even though the party supports legalization generally. That is also the case with the state Libertarian Party.
A group of activists recently formed a campaign—comprised of lawmakers, a former Missouri lieutenant governor, legalization supporters and the director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity—to convince voters to oppose the initiative and compel the governor to add cannabis reform to the legislative agenda of a special session.
To that end, Rep. Ron Hicks (R) introduced a revised marijuana legalization bill last month, with the hopes that the filing will spur the governor to expand the special session to allow consideration of the emergency reform legislation as an alternative to a cannabis ballot measure.
The bill was filed just one day after the Missouri Supreme Court gave a final ruling on a legal challenge to the activist-led initiative that secured its placement on the ballot.
Hicks’s legislation has been slightly revised since it was introduced and advanced through committee during the regular session earlier this year. One key change is that there’s now an emergency clause that references the ballot initiative, making it so the legislation would take effect immediately upon passage.
Gov. Mike Parson (R) recently said that he would not add marijuana legalization to the agenda for the special session focused on tax relief and agriculture issues that convened this month. However, Hicks said in a press release that “it is my hope that legislative action on my Marijuana Freedom Act will incentivize the governor to support passage of this legislation.”
Some of the state’s Democratic politicians do support the legalization ballot measure, however.
Democratic Senate candidate Trudy Busch Valentine, for example, tweeted last month that she is backing the initiative, citing its expected tax revenue and other benefits.
The largest labor union in the state, Missouri AFL-CIO, also endorsed the legalization proposal last month.
A lawsuit filed in August sought to keep the reform proposal off the ballot after it was certified by the secretary of state. But after two lower courts dismissed the challenge, the state Supreme Court delivered the final word that the legal battle is over this month.
Here’s what the Legal Missouri 2022 initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis.
They could also grow up to six flowering marijuana plants, six immature plants and six clones if they obtain a registration card.
The initiative would impose a six percent tax on recreational cannabis sales and use revenue to facilitate automatic expungements for people with certain non-violent marijuana offenses on their records.
Remaining revenue would go toward veterans’ healthcare, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.
The Department of Health and Senior Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing licenses for cannabis businesses.
Regulators would be required to issue at least 144 microbusiness licenses through a lottery system, with priority given to low-income applicants and people who have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would also be first in line to start serving adult consumers with dual licenses.
Regulators could create rules around advertising, but they could not be any more stringent than existing restrictions on alcohol marketing.
Public consumption, driving under the influence of cannabis and underage marijuana use would be explicitly prohibited.
A seed-to-sale tracking system would be established for the marijuana market.
Local jurisdictions would be able to opt out of permitting cannabis microbusinesses or retailers from operating in their area if voters approve the ban at the ballot.
The measure would further codify employment protections for medical cannabis patients.
Medical marijuana cards would be valid for three years at a time, instead of one. And caregivers would be able to serve double the number of patients.
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Meanwhile, state health officials are already taking steps to prepare for voter approval of the legalization measure.
A different campaign, Fair Access Missouri, separately explored multiple citizen initiatives this year with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot, but did not end up submitting signatures for any of the measures.