Missouri advocates for legalizing marijuana are hoping to capitalize on momentum after several Election Day wins across the country.
The organization Show-Me Cannabis filed a petition Wednesday to amend the state's constitution to allow the recreational use, possession and regulation of marijuana for adults over 21. The group would have to get about 165,000 signatures in order for an amendment initiative to be put on the 2016 statewide ballot, according to executive director John Payne.
Payne said he is confident Show-Me Cannabis can get the needed signatures.
"Obviously, the polls both nationally and here in Missouri have been trending in our direction for some time now, but especially in past five to six years," he said. "So every year, it becomes more likely that we'd be able to pass something like this."
On Tuesday, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., joined Colorado and Washington in allowing recreational pot use and possession for adults, after voters approved measures. Payne said the Missouri initiative is most closely based on those in Colorado and Oregon, the latter state being home to many former Missouri marijuana activists.
Payne said an amendment would benefit Missouri in many ways, including providing treatment for medical marijuana patients, giving farmers a new "cash crop" in the form of industrial hemp, and adding to state coffers through taxes on cannabis. But Payne said legalizing pot would allow police and the legal system to focus on "the most important priorities."
"It’s basically a waste of our taxpayer resources and law enforcement resources that we are arresting 20,000 people every year in state of Missouri for possessing cannabis," he said. "That’s time that police could be using to enforce more serious crime."
But even before the group begins collecting signatures, it has to first have their petition's language approved by the Secretary of State's Office. Secretary Jason Kander opened the petition to public comment on Thursday for 30 days. Show-Me Cannabis can then make changes to its petition and re-file it.
Once the final language is approved, the Secretary's office drafts how the measure would be seen by voters on the ballot, using public comments as a guide.
Payne said there is still a long road to go to get the measure on the 2016 ballot; the group previously filed initiative petitions in 2012 and 2014. The group's first attempt was stymied by a lack of organizational resources and time, he said, but it still managed to garner about 70,000 signatures. As for this past election, Payne said the group decided not to try to gather signatures during an off-year election.
"We are very popular among younger voters, but unfortunately younger voters don’t vote in every election," he said. "For something like this to pass, the best time is a presidential election (with) high voter turnout when a higher percentage of voters are in favor of something like this."