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Legalization Opponents Sue To Block Initiative From Missouri Ballot

An alliance of drug reform groups has brought a lawsuit against a Missouri initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. They claim that the proposal did not comply with constitutional requirements, and the petition signatures were insufficient. Jay Ashcroft (Missouri Secretary of State) certified the initiative which would have legalized marijuana for adults as well as allow commercial cannabis activities earlier this month.

John Payne of Legal Missouri, which is sponsoring legalization, stated that this was the only initiative with enough support from the public to get sufficient signatures in order to be on the ballot.

“This lawsuit lacks merit and in less than three months Missouri will be the 20th state to regulate, tax and legalize cannabis,” said Payne.

Joy Sweney is a Jefferson City resident who was sued on August 19. She serves as deputy director of technical assistance, training and community outreach at Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. This coalition of community organizations aims to reduce substance abuse and misuse. Protect Our Kids PAC in Colorado, a super PAC that opposes drug policy reform efforts, supports the legal action.

“Not only does the language deceive voters about the harms of legalization, it is in violation of state law and the Missouri Constitution,” Luke Niforatos, the CEO of Protect Our Kids PAC, said in a statement. “We hope the courts will rule on this issue expeditiously and spare Missouri’s children from targeting by Big Marijuana.”

JoDonn Chaney, a spokesman for the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, said the office had not been officially served with the suit and that he could not comment on the specifics of the legal action. But he added that the signature totals and certification process “speak for themselves.”

“The individuals responsible for submitting this (initiative petition) met the constitutional requirements as required by statute, therefore Secretary Ashcroft certified Amendment 3 to the ballot,” Chaney said. “The secretary followed the law and fulfilled his statutory duty and stands behind his certification.”

To qualify for the ballot in Missouri, initiative campaigns must collect enough signatures from registered voters to equal at least 8% of the votes cast in the 2020 gubernatorial election in a minimum of six of the state’s eight congressional districts. Backers of the suit note that local election officials conducted an informal tabulation last month showing the campaign was missing 2,275 signatures. But after backers of the petition requested a review of the total by the Secretary of State’s Office, officials determined that the campaign had collected enough signatures and Ashcroft certified the petition for the November ballot on August 9.

The legal action claims that Ashcroft “certified and counted signatures that were marked through by the local election authorities and, absent this action, the marijuana initiative petition would not have had a sufficient number of valid signatures in six of eight congressional districts.” The suit notes that signature counts and voter rolls requested under Missouri’s open records law have not been provided to the plaintiff.

In addition, the lawsuit claims that marijuana legalization initiatives fail to meet requirements that only one topic be covered on ballot measures. Under the Missouri Constitution, initiative petitions that amend the state constitution, “shall not contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith.”

The court filing for the suit claims that the initiative would not only legalize recreational marijuana but would also criminalize cannabis possession beyond a statutory limit, create a process for licensing marijuana cultivators, set tax guidelines, create a new position to oversee licensing “on a preferential basis,” and establish a system to expunge past marijuana convictions.

Missouri law allows the filing of a lawsuit to be moved to the court docket for hearing and resolution in a timely manner.