BY BAY COLT
For many Missouri voters, these recent 2022 midterm elections offered a controversial and intriguing political debate over the now-passed Amendment 3, an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that will legalize recreational marijuana for all adults over the age of twenty-one. Among the amendments proposed, this was certainly the most contentious one, as Missouri was only one of two states to even approve legalization measures, the other being Maryland. In the end, Amendment 3 was passed with a 53.1% majority, and will go into effect as early as December 8.
Amendment 3 entails a few important details that will impact Missouri communities. It is a furthering of Amendment 2, passed in 2018, that legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes; Amendment 3 will now provide explicit employment protections for medical marijuana users, prohibiting discrimination for off-premises usage and positive drug tests of a qualified person. Medical marijuana cards—as well as cultivation cards—will now last three years instead of one. Lastly, medical marijuana will be taxed at a lower rate than recreational marijuana.
A greater change, however, will be the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. All adults over the age of twenty-one will be able to purchase marijuana from licensed businesses, medical establishments being the first to receive such licenses. There will be a limited number of licenses dispersed through a lottery process that will distribute them equally amongst the congressional districts. There will also be microbusiness licenses, which are essentially licenses prioritizing small businesses and disadvantaged applicants, allowing them to secure a spot in the new market.
Perhaps most importantly, Amendment 3 will expunge prior nonviolent marijuana offenses, meaning that their records will be sealed from the public. This will grant people improved access to employment opportunities and a fresh slate if they are released from prison. Though they will not be released automatically, nonviolent marijuana offenders will also have the opportunity to petition for release from jail or removed from parole in addition to having their charges expunged.
With all these new freedoms, what are the prohibitions? Marijuana will be prohibited wherever tabbaco is prohibited, meaning no smoking zones in public still apply to weed as well. The penalty for violating this will be a civil penalty of no more than $100. People can still be arrested for driving under the influence, smoking or possessing on school or correctional facility grounds, and employers may still discipline employees for smoking in the workplace.
Though Amendment 3 was resoundingly approved by Missouri voters, some still maintain concerns about the effect legalization will have on the state. Missouri NAACP, for instance, opposed the proposition, claiming it would not diversify the market like lawmakers claimed. Mayor of St. Louis, Tishaura Jones, stressed the importance of an amendment that provides equal opportunity to minorities: “If we choose the path of a constitutional amendment to resolve the matter of legalization, it would have to be forward-thinking, flexible and most of all, equitable. This amendment fails to meet that lofty aim. Simply put, legalization does not equal decriminalization.” Others were concerned that greater access to mind-altering substances would negatively impact the wider health of their community. “This will destroy Independence,” says Clayton Hollinbeck, a high school senior who voted for the first time in the midterms. “We already have a huge drug problem in this city. [Marijuana] shouldn’t be legal, it’s horrible for you.”
Those who approve of Amendment 3 also have a health argument to make; Madisen Farrar, Independence resident, said, “I won’t have to buy from shady plugs anymore, you know? I won’t have to worry if it’ll be laced with some bad shit or not.” The legalization of marijuana will place stricter quality regulations on the product, meaning the illegal market will be less desirable, therefore driving most dealers out of business.
However, ultimately, the true impacts of Amendment 3 won’t fully be known until all procedures go into effect in the coming months. Missouri residents will simply have to wait in anticipation—either positive or negative—of the changes this amendment will implement in their communities. One thing is certain: marijuana’s growing success at the state level signals potential for challenging its federal illegality, which would be an immense policy shift that would affect the entire country. In these cases, voting is exceedingly important—committing at the midterms can make a monumental difference.