St. Louis Post-Dispatch. August 20, 2022.

Editorial: Missouri pot legalization and record expungement shouldn’t be this difficult

Missouri voters, who have already had to go around a mulish Legislature once to legalize medical marijuana in the state, will decide in November whether to legalize recreational pot as well. A provision within the legalization measure would automatically expunge the records of people previously convicted of non-violent marijuana crimes. Illinois and several other states have already taken that logical step, via standard legislation.

If Missouri’s expungement referendum passes, it would become the first state in the nation to do so by the ballot. That such a heavy lift is necessary for such a reasonable goal is another reminder of just how broken Missouri’s political system is.

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The hysteria over marijuana in the past wasn’t based on medical facts, but was cultural and generational. That hysteria is nonetheless still reflected in federal law. But much of America has come to understand that, by just about any measure, pot is less dangerous than fully legal vices like cigarettes and alcohol. Since California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, another 36 states (including Missouri) have followed suit. Nineteen states, including Illinois, have legalized it for recreational purposes.

Of those 19, just seven also have mechanisms in the law to expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of non-violent marijuana crimes. The other 12 states are saying, in essence, that even though they have formally decriminalized pot, those who were convicted back when it was illegal are still considered criminals, with all the burden that imposes on societal and employment goals. This is why it makes sense that the constitutional amendment Missourians will consider on the Nov. 8 ballot to legalize recreational marijuana includes a provision to automatically expunge previous non-violence criminal records related to marijuana.

What makes less sense is that proponents have to resort to a constitutional amendment referendum in the first place. Referendums aren’t a practical or efficient way to write laws; that’s what elected legislatures are for. But Missouri’s Republican-controlled Legislature in recent years has been non-responsive and even obstructionist to what Missourians want regarding labor rights, wages, political reform, Medicaid expansion and, yes, marijuana.

As a result, voters have had to resort to ballot measures again and again just to get around lawmakers who, it’s clear, don’t represent most Missourians’ views or interests. If they did, these constant referendums wouldn’t be necessary.

Recent polling shows almost two-thirds of Missourians believe marijuana should be legalized for recreational use — which is roughly the size of the majority that approved the 2018 referendum legalizing medical marijuana. In a functioning state government, numbers like that would have spurred the Legislature before now to make this reasonable change by legislation, which would make it easier to tweak as needed going forward. As it stands, it’s once again up to Missouri’s voters to represent themselves, since their elected representatives refuse to.

St. Joseph News Press. August 19, 2022.

Editorial: Look before you leap on marijuana

For Missourians above a certain age, the whole marijuana legalization issue seems vaguely familiar.

Remember casinos? Voters approved riverboat gaming in 1992, but the industry pushed for expanded laws to allow slot machines and then artificial moats next to the river. Voters, many of whom long ago dropped their resistance to casino gambling, don’t seem to mind all that much.

The marijuana industry is following a similar playbook of incrementalism. First came voter approval of medical marijuana in 2018. Now, the electorate gets a chance to decide on the full legalization of marijuana for Missourians age 21 and older.

Big marijuana has every reason to feel confident given that public stigma has eroded over the years, but over-confidence can be the kiss of death. Those advocating for the passage of what’s now known as Amendment 3 shouldn’t get a free pass. The public should demand answers to some key questions:

Why are existing medical license holders being given a golden ticket to monopolize the more lucrative recreational industry? The amendment gives those that operate medical dispensaries and cultivation facilities a near-exclusive path to gobble up the limited recreational licenses. This would seem to validate a license-granting process that was shown to be highly flawed after the 2018 amendment was passed.

If passed, recreational marijuana would be taxed at 6%, with proceeds going to veterans programs and health care, public defenders and nonprofits that provide drug treatment. Missourians will have to ask themselves if they agree with these uses. Does it make sense to sell drugs to raise money for drug treatment?

The amendment includes new language that appears to restrict employers from firing someone who fails a drug test if that person has a medical marijuana card, although there seems to be some leeway for those who operate dangerous equipment. Should those kinds of hiring and firing restrictions be imposed on employers? By the way, no such employer restrictions are included for recreational users.

Just how many people are in jail for marijuana offenses? Supporters of this amendment cite a very high number, but local prosecutors and the administrator of state courts provide information suggesting that some of these numbers are, shall we say, puffed up. It’s an important issue for clarification because there are a lot of reasonable people who don’t want to smoke marijuana but they don’t want a bunch of users in jail, either.

It’s likely that the time for legal marijuana will come, public acceptance being what it is. But just as you don’t have to buy the first house or car you look at, you don’t necessarily have to approve the first legalization measure if it isn’t to your liking.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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