A bipartisan group of lawmakers and activists are calling for Gov. Mike Parson to include marijuana legalization on the agenda of the Legislature's upcoming special session.
The group also announced the launch of a campaign aimed at defeating a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment set to appear on the November ballot.
The Legislature is set to return to the Capitol on Sept. 14 to debate a $700 million tax cut plan laid out by the governor.
"Rather than settle for an ill-suited and monopolistic program shoehorned into our (state) constitution, the Missouri General Assembly has an unique opportunity to consider legislation that would legalize cannabis in a truly free market fashion," said state Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O'Fallon.
At issue is disagreement between advocates for marijuana legalization over how to best implement the policy in Missouri.
A bill to legalize recreational marijuana stalled earlier this year in the House after intense lobbying pressure from the medical marijuana industry. Instead, the industry backed an initiative petition campaign to put its preferred version of legalization on the November ballot.
Parson, who has in the past received massive campaign support from the medical marijuana industry, has publicly decried the legalization amendment, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 3. The governor called it a "disaster" that will mostly benefit "corporations behind marijuana."
In calling for the governor to include the issue in the special session, opponents of the marijuana amendment echoed those complaints.
Top among their concerns is the fact it would allow the state to continue to cap licenses to grow or sell marijuana and would give current medical marijuana businesses first dibs on the more lucrative recreational licenses.
State Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, said the proposal would "corner the market for those already in position and continue a long tradition of predatory behavior on minority and poor communities."
The proposal would also enshrine certain marijuana-related penalties in the state constitution, which could then only be changed through another statewide vote.
"We oppose any effort to put criminal or civil penalties for marijuana in the Missouri Constitution," said Jeremy Cady, director of Americans for Prosperity Missouri. "The General Assembly should act to end marijuana prohibition and do so in a manner that adheres to free market principles."
John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, which is backing Amendment 3, criticized the Missouri lobbyist who is helping organize opposition to the amendment, Eapen Thampy. He said if voters approve Amendment 3, it would "ruin (Thampy's) business model of lobbying for failed marijuana legalization efforts year after year."
"In November, we will become the 20th state to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana and the first state to vote for automatic expungement of past, non-violent marijuana offenses," Payne said. "Amendment 3 will allow law enforcement to focus on serious and violent crime, while bringing millions in new revenues to Missourians."
The governor's office could not be immediately reached for comment on the request to expand the special session agenda.
The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.