Judge Cotton Walker dismissed a lawsuit on Friday aimed at reversing approval for the question of recreational cannabis legalization set to appear on Missouri’s November 8th ballot.
Per the Associated Press, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft certified the initiative on August 9th, announcing that the activist group Legal Missouri 2022 had gathered the required number of valid signatures for the proposed constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot.
As outlined by Kyle Jaeger in an August article from Marijuana Moment, the lawsuit challenging the ballot initiative for recreational marijuana was filed back on August 19th by Joy Sweeney, who works for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and has the support of the Protect Our Kids Political Action Committee out of Colorado.
Sweeney’s lawsuit claims that the ballot initiative, backed by the Legal Missouri Campaign, violates the single subject rule of the state Constitution by encompassing too many changes to existing law.
The single-subject rule for ballot measures appears in Article III, Section 50 of the Missouri State Constitution. It states that “petitions for constitutional amendments shall not contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith …”
The suit also alleges that Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft interfered with the legal process and certified the ballot initiative even though his office had previously reported not having sufficient signatures from all of the mandated congressional districts.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Judge Walker of the Cole County Circuit Court dismissed the case on procedural grounds after lawyers for the defendant claimed during oral arguments on Thursday that Joy Sweeney had not proven state residency.
While the case was thrown out for procedural reasons, Judge Walker also issued judgments against the central claims of Sweeney’s lawsuit. Walker argued that the Secretary of State’s Office did follow the appropriate legal processes when certifying signatures for the ballot initiative.
Additionally, Walker dismissed the plaintiff’s interpretation of the single subject rule, finding that the proposed amendment does not violate state constitutional law.
Following Walker’s dismissal, the plaintiff filed an appeal with the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, as explained by Tessa Weinberg with the Missouri Independent.
The appeal challenged Judge Walker’s decision to dismiss the case based on the question of Joy Sweeney’s residency and, again, argued that Ashcroft had overstepped the parameters of his position by certifying votes that election clerks had previously disqualified.
Luke Niforatos, CEO of a political action committee based in Colorado called Protect Our Kids, supported the appeal. Like Sweeney’s Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, Protect Our Kids opposes all efforts to legalize cannabis and other soft drugs.
Both sides presented their arguments on Monday to a panel of three judges with the Court of Appeals, Western District in Kansas City. One day ahead of the appeals deadline for November ballot measures, the court ultimately upheld Judge Walker’s dismissal of Sweeney’s lawsuit.
The Court of Appeals did disagree with Judge Walker’s refusal to allow evidence from the plaintiff based on the dispute regarding state residency. Judge Cynthia Martin from the Western District referred to Walker’s decision on this matter as “an abuse of discretion,” since Sweeney had answered questions about her residency during virtual testimony.
However, the panel issued a judgment that Ashcroft’s office did follow the correct certification processes for the ballot initiative. Furthermore, the panel concurred with Walker that the ballot measure, known now as Amendment 3, does not violate the Missouri State Constitution’s statutes regarding the single subject rule, even with the many provisions included in the initiative.
Sweeney and other prohibition advocates, such as Luke Niforatos, put their hopes in the Missouri Supreme Court after failing in the Court of Appeals. Today, however, the Missouri Supreme Court denied a request to review Sweeney’s case. As today is the deadline for appeals, it appears that voters will be deciding the fate of recreational marijuana in Missouri on the November ballot.
Tessa Weinberg, again with the Missouri Independent, provided additional details back in late August regarding the controversial steps Ashcroft’s office took to re-verify signatures that had previously been disputed by local officials.
Fearing the petition would fail, activists with Legal Missouri reached out to Ashcroft’s office directly and requested that he review 4,800 signatures from Congressional Districts 6 and 7 that local officials had invalidated. Ashcroft’s office has not shared exactly how the review process worked, but at its conclusion, over 3,000 signatures were deemed valid that had previously been thrown out.
In the past, activist groups have relied upon the courts for recourse in disputes regarding signature validity, but Legal Missouri activists feared they would run out of time. Had Ashcroft’s office not agreed to intervene, the petition would have fallen short by at least 2,275 signatures.
If passed by voters, Amendment 3 would allow adults aged 21 or over to possess, cultivate and consume marijuana recreationally, as outlined by Kyle Jaeger in Marijuana Moment. The measure would also expunge non-violent marijuana charges for those who were not convicted of selling to minors or driving under the influence.
In addition to those two big provisions, the amendment calls for a 6 percent tax on the sale of recreational cannabis. Tax revenue would be used for costs related to criminal expungement, with any excess funds going to initiatives related to healthcare for veterans, substance abuse treatment, and Missouri’s public defender program.
Furthermore, the amendment calls upon the Department of Health and Senior Services to prioritize low-income applicants and those who have been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs when awarding cannabis business licenses. The process will rely upon a lottery system.
Additional topics addressed by the amendment include dual licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, a change to the expiration timeframe for medical marijuana cards, and legislation regarding employment safeguards for medical marijuana patients.
If Missourians vote to pass the legislation in November, Missouri will become the 20th state to legalize cannabis for recreational use.
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