A Missouri coalition that helped pass medical marijuana in 2018 is optimistic about its new effort to place adult-use marijuana on the November ballot, but supporters acknowledge that it may be more difficult to sway voters this time around.
Missourians for a New Approach is gathering signatures to put the question of adult-use marijuana on the ballot this fall. A total of 160,199 verified signatures must be submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office by May 3 in order to secure the ballot question.
The effort is being backed by many of the same groups who were involved in the New Approach Missouri campaign, which was behind a medical marijuana constitutional amendment that passed by a margin of 66% to 34% in 2018.
Missourians for a New Approach campaign manager John Payne said in a statement that 11 other states, including neighboring Illinois, now allow recreational use of marijuana.
“We’ve seen the medical marijuana program in Missouri (be) very successful,” Payne told the Globe on Friday. “We have over 30,000 patients enrolled in the program now. ... I think Missourians have seen the success of it so far, and I think they’re ready to progress further.”
The proposed measure would allow only those 21 and older to possess marijuana. Sales would be taxed at a 15% rate, with revenue split between veterans services, roads and bridges, and drug addiction treatment. Local communities could opt out with voter approval. The measure also would expunge criminal records for some marijuana-related offenses.
According to the state’s fiscal estimate, the initiative is projected to produce $93 million to $155 million annually for Missouri by 2025, with an additional $17 million to $27 million annually to local governments.
Payne, who also served as campaign manager for New Approach, said the mechanics of getting the issue on the ballot are the same as the 2018 medical marijuana issue, but he believes it won’t be as easy as before.
“We already know a strong majority of Missourians are in support of it, but obviously this is going to be a tough campaign,” he said. “It’s going to be an issue that draws a lot of attention, so we’re going to have to make sure people understand that this is something that’s going to better their communities.”
Missourians for a New Approach believes recreational marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol, and that law enforcement resources should be put into higher priorities than marijuana offenses, Payne said. The coalition is optimistic that it can collect the needed signatures from six of the eight congressional districts to place the measure on the November ballot.
“It’s a quick timeline, but we have a proven team and a signature collecting company — the same group that we used in 2018 who really came in over the top on the goal of signatures and the congressional districts that we needed to qualify,” he said. “We believe we can get it done. It’s going to be tough, but it’s definitely doable.”
As the campaign launches, other groups are raising questions and concerns about the legalization and commercialization of recreational marijuana.
A 2019 national poll conducted by Emerson College found 68% of registered voters do not support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana when given more than a binary choice of options. The public opinion survey was commissioned by the Alexandria, Virginia-based nonprofit Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes the commercialization of marijuana.
In an interview with the Globe, Luke Niforatos, chief of staff and senior policy adviser at Smart Approaches to Marijuana, cited his own experiences from growing up and living in Colorado, which was one of the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes in 2012.
“If you look around Denver, you have a huge industry that started but is now invested in by big tobacco,” Niforatos said. “Multiple billions of dollars of big tobacco’s money is in the industry now.”
Niforatos, who said he joined the nonprofit after watching his 1-year-old daughter breathe secondhand marijuana smoke while out in public, believes recreational marijuana poses a risk to human health.
Colorado NORML, an organization that advocates for the rights of marijuana consumers in the state, could not be reached for comment.
AAA also is questioning the pitch for recreational marijuana legalization in Missouri. Nick Chabarria, spokesperson for AAA, told the Globe that the proposal raises some red flags.
“I think one of the biggest things is that there’s not enough research and there’s not a good impairment test for marijuana like there is for alcohol or DWI,” he said. “From a traffic safety perspective, this is a very big area of interest for AAA.”
A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the share of Washington state drivers who, after a fatal crash, tested positive for active THC, a component of marijuana, has doubled since the state legalized marijuana in December 2012.
The research found that between 2008 and 2012 — the five-year period before the drug was legal — an estimated 8.8% of Washington drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for THC. That rate rose to 18% between 2013 and 2017. The study did not attempt to determine if marijuana use contributed to the crashes.
“This study enabled us to review a full 10 years’ worth of data about the potential impact of marijuana on driving safety — and it raises significant concerns,” David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a statement. “Results from the analysis suggest that legalization of recreational use of marijuana may increase the rate of THC-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.