Why 2016 Could Be the Year Missouri Legalizes Marijuana

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Show-Me Cannabis plans to file paperwork this week for a ballot initiative that would ask Missouri voters to legalize the use and sale of marijuana. The filing with the Secretary of State's Office is just the beginning of what's expected to be a costly and arduous two-year campaign to get the issue on the November 2016 ballot.

This past February Show-Me Cannabis abandoned a similar ballot initiative scheduled for tomorrow's mid-term elections after polling indicated that 51 percent of Missouri voters still opposed legalization compared to 45 percent in favor.

See also: Legalized Marijuana in Missouri Unlikely for 2014, But There's Still Some Hope

John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis, tells Daily RFT that his group now believes it stands a much better chance of passing the measure in 2016, a presidential election in which younger voters tend to show up to the polls in greater numbers. In addition, Payne's marijuana-reform organization believes that within two years the majority of Missourians -- not just younger voters -- should be in favor of legalizing pot.

"Opinions on marijuana legalization have been shifting for the past twenty years and dramatically so in just the past six to seven years," says Payne, who notes that even Missouri's Republican-controlled General Assembly is beginning to thaw its stance on cannabis.

This year the General Assembly passed an overhaul of the criminal code that eliminates the possibility of jail time for a first-time offenders caught with under ten grams of marijuana. Another law passed this year allows for the use of cannabis oil to treat patients with severe epilepsy.

See also: Missouri's New Marijuana Laws Are "Small Step" Forward

Polling from Gallup indicates that approval of marijuana legalization has skyrocketed nationwide in recent years with 58 percent of Americans now in favor of decriminalizing the drug. By the time Missourians may vote on the measure in 2016, other states besides Colorado and Washington will likely have legalized marijuana. Voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. are all voting on the matter tomorrow.

"People are seeing how the markets in Colorado and Washington work and they're seeing the benefits of those markets," says Payne.

Show-Me Cannabis estimates that the legal sale of marijuana could benefit the state by at least $150 million based on law-enforcement savings and a tax rate similar to Missouri's taxes on alcohol and tobacco. Earlier this year the State Auditor actually placed the potential economic benefits of legalized marijuana even higher -- at $217 million a year -- based on a 25 percent tax. The exact tax amount for the Show-Me Cannabis ballot initiative has not been set but will likely be between 15 and 25 percent.

If passed, the ballot measure would amend the state Constitution to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for only those age 21 and over. It would also allow those with non-violent criminal charges stemming from marijuana to have their records expunged. That means people such as Jeff Mizanskey, who's currently serving a life sentence for three, non-violent marijuana felonies, could be freed from prison.

See also: How a Missouri Man Could Die in Prison for Weed

In order to get the measure in front of voters, Show-Me Cannabis needs signatures from 8 percent of active voters in six of Missouri's eight congressional districts. That equates to roughly 160,000 signatures, though Payne believes his group will need 300,000 signatures to ensure it has enough autographs from valid, registered voters. Payne estimates his organization will also need at least $500,000 to pay people to gather all those signatures and much more than that to publicize and advertise the campaign.

But given its two year head start, Payne believes that this time Show-Me Cannabis will get the measure on the ballot, which could prove to be a bigger obstacle than getting enough votes come November 2016.

"Get this to the polls, and we're confident Missourians will pass the amendment," says Payne.

Contact the author at chad.garrison@riverfronttimes.com or

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