Missouri Black Leaders Divided Over Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure

To address growing tensions between Black leaders and organizations in Missouri over an attempt to legalize marijuana, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (D) declared on Nov. 1 that she will oppose the proposal, which would appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as Amendment 3.

Jones stated that while she is in favor of legalization, she opposes putting what she believes to be a potentially unfair legalization procedure into the state's constitution since "it can be tough to modify" there.

In a statement, Jones stated that a constitutional amendment would need to be fair, adaptable, and most crucially, far-seeing to successfully resolve the legalization problem. "This amendment fails to achieve that high standard. Simply put, decriminalization and legalization are not the same things.”

In opposing Amendment 3, Jones is teaming with state assemblywoman Ashley Bland-Manlove (D), head of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, and the Missouri NAACP, who declared her opposition last month.

Both contend that the legislation will result in minorities' "prolonged exile" from the cannabis sector.

Moreover, Freedom Inc., a black-run civil rights organization in Kansas City, declared its support for the reform on the day of Jones' statement. Freedom Inc. supports the project's measure, marijuana - Remove offenses from people's criminal records, along with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas (D), the Action STL Power Project, and other political organizing groups that promoted Jones’ election in 2021.

Additionally, while the NAACP's national organization opposes the change, the St. Louis chapter is one of its most ardent supporters.

The primary issue for Amendment 3 opponents is the limits on marijuana-related permits for growing, transporting, and selling marijuana, that state regulator enacted after voters approved Missouri's medical marijuana program in 2018.

The state decided to only award a bare minimum of 192 dispensaries and 86 production licenses, plus 60 cultivation licenses, for medical marijuana. Approximately 20 more licenses have already been granted by the state, some of which were mandated by the Administrative Hearing Commission due to mistakes made during the application screening process. Permits for black-owned companies were scarce.

The state could continue restricting licenses while current medical marijuana license holders are given the more profitable recreational licenses first, under Amendment 3.

Although there are some positive features to this upgrade, according to Jones, it seems to be more tailored for current suppliers and licensees than general consumers.

The initiative has the financial support of many of the state's major medical marijuana licensees, according to Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel, Jr., who claimed that they were attempting to "transform the overall market" for themselves.

He claimed that those who currently hold medical marijuana licenses "are run and owned by Caucasians, and minority involvement has been completely excluded from the equation."

Proponents of Amendment 3 claim that the 144 "microlenses," which require applicants to live in a zip area with a high marijuana imprisonment rate or fulfill other requirements, will solve the system's racial inequalities.

Raising financing is currently one of the major challenges for many smaller medical marijuana businesses. Bank financing is not an option because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, according to Pruitt - president of the St. Louis City chapter of the NAACP.

Pruitt stated that the state Department of Health and Elderly Services, not the wording of the amendment, is responsible for setting licensing caps.

Additionally, Missouri residents who have committed marijuana-related misdemeanors will have their criminal records automatically sealed under Amendment 3.

Depending on the type of offense, there will be deadlines for when courts must erase data, with administrative offenses taking precedence. Anyone who is not incarcerated, on parole, or probation would be subject to a court order to be removed within a year.

The petition states that fees and taxes obtained from the marijuana program would be used to pay for deletions.

The eradication plans are among the most extensive that have been put forth in the country, according to supporters.

A statewide vote is required to adopt a constitutional amendment. Both the legislature and the unreclaimed application process, which Chapel emphasized can be expensive and time-consuming, can place issues on the ballot.

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