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Legal weed and ranked-choice voting initiatives submitted for Missouri ballot

The ATM inside Fresh Green has stayed busy since the store opened Monday in Lee's Summit. They  sold out of all their inventory within days of the opening of the first medical marijuana dispensary in the Kansas City area.
The ATM inside Fresh Green has stayed busy since the store opened Monday in Lee's Summit. They sold out of all their inventory within days of the opening of the first medical marijuana dispensary in the Kansas City area.

Missourians this fall may have a chance to legalize adult marijuana use and change the way elections are conducted.

Two initiatives proposing amendments to the Missouri Constitution were submitted Sunday. If each has sufficient signatures, they will likely be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The marijuana initiative would build on the 2018 amendment that legalized medical cannabis sales and cultivation. It would authorize 144 new licenses to cultivate and sell marijuana and allow individuals to grow their own supply without fear of criminal penalties.

“It’s time to stop treating adults who use marijuana responsibly like criminals,” Dan Viets, a Columbia attorney, said in a news release. Viets is LegalMo22 advisory board chairman and Missouri coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The elections initiative would change primaries so all filed candidates are on a single ballot, with the top four moving on to the November election, where ranked-choice voting would allow voters to state their preferences for each of the listed candidates.

“We will get rid of separate, partisan primaries so voters can support the candidate of their choice regardless of parties,” said Scott Charton, spokesman for Better Elections.

The marijuana initiative effort claims to have more than 385,000 signatures on its petition and the elections initiative campaign says it has more than 300,000 signatures. To make the ballot, each needs approximately 180,000 signatures distributed among six of the state’s eight congressional districts.

The marijuana initiative would allow current medical marijuana businesses to convert to serving both medical and non-medical purchases. There would be an additional 144 licenses for what will be known as “microbusiness facilities,” with six dispensaries and 12 wholesale facilities in each congressional district.

The cap on licenses has been a source of criticism in the medical marijuana program, with an unsuccessful court case seeking to declare that the cap itself was illegal and successful challenges to the scoring system that awarded the initial licenses.

An effort to legalize marijuana sales without a cap on licenses stalled in the General Assembly. The initiative addresses questions over inconsistent scoring by awarding the new licenses, and any of the existing licenses that become available, through a lottery system.

Marijuana sales would be taxed at 6% in addition to regular sales taxes, with the new revenue split among veterans’ programs, drug treatment and the public defender system. Communities could block marijuana sales with a local-option vote.

The measure also includes a provision that would automatically expunge the criminal records of people convicted of marijuan offenses.

The elections initiative, if passed, would apply starting in 2024 to elections for statewide office, the Missouri General Assembly and U.S. Congress.

The proposal is a hybrid of systems used in other states.

For primaries, California puts all primary candidates on one ballot and the top two candidates reach the general election, while the Missouri system would put up to four candidates in the fall contest.

Voters would choose one candidate from the list.

If it was in place this year, there would be four candidates advancing in the statewide contests for U.S. Senate, where 21 Republicans, 11 Democrats, one Libertarian and one Constitution Party have filed, and state Auditor, where four candidates total have filed. There are also at least four candidates in all eight congressional districts, six of the 17 state Senate races and 13 of 163 Missouri House contests.

In the fall election, voters could give their vote to a single candidate or rank their choices among the candidates listed.

“The Better Elections Amendment will require candidates to fight for all of our votes, in every part of the state,” Madolyn Okohson-Reb, a St. Louis community leader, said at a news conference Sunday as the petitions were being delivered.

Another election change included in the initiative would require special primary and general elections to fill all vacancies. Currently, the governor can appoint statewide officeholders and a new U.S. Senator when a vacancy occurs and candidates in special elections for the U.S. House, state Senate and Missouri House are selected by political party committees.

The initiative would also ask voters to require all electronic voting machines be tested and certified before use; require a paper trail of individual votes in every election; and require that representatives of all political parties be present whenever paper ballots are counted or placed in storage.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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