Missouri Could Be First State to Wave Expungement Wand

Amendment 3 would allow for automatic expungement of nonviolent cannabis convictions.

For Missourians, a “Yes” vote for Amendment 3 on Nov. 8 would not only remove prohibitions on adult-use cannabis across the state, but it would pave a path to amnesty for those harmed by the drug war.

To the chagrin of the state’s Republican legislative supermajority, who have resisted various cannabis policy efforts in the state for years, voters will decide whether to allow those 21 or above to buy and possess up to three ounces of marijuana for personal consumption. The measure also allows for home grow.

If passed, the advocate-led ballot initiative also shifts the onus of clearing convictions, giving courts six months to establish a program to grant automatic expungement to those with past misdemeanor marijuana-related offenses. Those with eligible felony records and currently incarcerated individuals with marijuana-related crimes will have a year to petition the courts for expungement.

“Under Amendment 3, hundreds of thousands of Missourians charged with nonviolent marijuana offenses would have their records automatically expunged ─ a critical criminal justice reform that if passed, would make Missouri the first state where voters took such a step,” said John Payne, the campaign manager for Legal Missouri, the committee driving the effort.

“Current Missouri law and most similar programs in other states require those seeking to vacate their convictions to first petition the courts, a time-consuming and expensive process,” he said.

Similar to the successful advocate-led effort in 2018 to amend the state constitution to allow medical marijuana, recreational pot’s journey to the ballot has been marked by legal pushback and challenges from those such as Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and the Colorado-based Protect Our Kids PAC.

The Missouri Supreme Court last month ultimately chose not to hear the challenge, allowing the vote to move forward.

Funding and measure details

Legal Missouri 2022 has raised more than $5 million to support Amendment 3, according to Missouri Ethics Commission filings. Supporters including state medical dispensaries, which could plant first stakes in the new market should the measure pass, as well as other marijuana industry groups that have collectively poured more than $600,000 since Oct. 1.

Since the start of Legal Missouri’s quest, the largest contribution tracked by OpenSecrets was $365,000 from New Growth Horizon LLC, the nonprofit arm of medical cannabis company Proper Brands.

No committees have raised money to oppose the initiative.

Recreational-use cannabis in Missouri would have the nation’s lowest marijuana tax rate, with a 6% state tax and an optional 3% local tax. The Missouri Auditor’s Office predicted that cannabis sales could bring in at least $38 million a year.

Payne said that the low rates would make the state more competitive than the bordering, more heavily taxed Illinois.

Missouri Democrats have recently remained neutral on Amendment 3, with ranking members arguing that the citizen-led measure does not provide enough social-equity provisions to qualify for its support.

The state’s own medical program rollout has fueled criticism from lawmakers and eventually gained the particular interest of federal law enforcement.

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson covers the cannabis industry for The Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Columbia Missourian and has written for The Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants, and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.

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