COLUMBIA — Your opinion could decide whether a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use will appear on the statewide ballot in November.
Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, an association of organizations and people who believe marijuana prohibition is a failed policy, is spending about $40,000 to hire consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to poll Missouri residents likely to vote in the 2014 general election.
Polling results are expected by the end of February and will help the group assess how likely 2014 voters are to pass a constitutional amendment for legalization. Since the November ballot is not for a presidential election, fewer voters are expected.
"According to the conventional wisdom, a legalization campaign in an off-year election like 2014, in a conservative-leaning state like Missouri should be doomed to failure," John Payne, executive director and treasurer of Show-Me Cannabis wrote on The Weed Blog. "I think that conventional wisdom is wrong, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
Depending on results of the polling, a proposition for legalization could be held for the presidential election in 2016 when higher voter turnout is anticipated.
Payne hopes the polling firm will find that close to 60 percent of surveyed voters support some form of legalization. He said 60 percent is a safe benchmark because even if support decreases, the proposition could still pass, and his organization would likely begin gathering signatures for a statewide vote.
"There is a question asking people if they support legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis in general," Payne said, "But the most important question makes respondents read the ballot language and asks how likely they are to support or oppose it."
Secretary of State Jason Kander approved the group's 13 ballot initiatives, which were submitted in December by Columbia attorney and marijuana activist Dan Viets on behalf of Show-Me Cannabis. The poll will include questions that address the differences in the initiatives to help determine which version would be most likely to pass.
"We will also compare likely 2016 voters to likely 2014 voters and have some questions about messaging, but polling on the ballot title is by far the most important aspect of the poll," Payne said.
Payne and Viets are both optimistic about the poll results after a nationwide Gallup poll regarding marijuana legalization found 58 percent of those surveyed favored legalization — a record high.
Two years ago, Show-Me Cannabis conducted a poll showing 50 percent of Missouri voters supported legalization. Viets said support rose to 54 percent when it was pointed out to voters that people younger than 21 would not be able to buy marijuana.
"We are wasting so much money arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana right now that could be used for better purposes, and we are losing revenue that should be going to the state," Viets said.
Show-Me Cannabis would need to gather at least 157,788 signatures to put a proposal before voters in November. Petitioners must gather signatures from six of the state's eight congressional districts, and the number of signatures needs to be at least eight percent of the number of voters in the 2012 gubernatorial election, according to a newsletter from the secretary of state's office. The signatures are due to the secretary of state's office no later than 5 p.m. May 4.
In 2012, Show-Me Cannabis Regulation gathered approximately 65,000 signatures after the secretary of state approved its initiative for a constitutional amendment. The initiative, however, required approximately 195,000 signatures.
Members of Show-Me Cannabis believe marijuana should be regulated like alcohol to maintain an orderly marketplace composed of state-licensed producers, distributors and retailers and to combat illegal underage use.
"Marijuana prohibition causes the same problems as alcohol prohibition did," Viets said. "It is a subsidy to criminals, who pay no taxes and engage in violence as a form of dispute resolution."
All 13 initiatives restrict the consumption, distribution, production and sale of cannabis and hemp products to people 21 years and older. According to the 13 initiatives, marijuana use poses hazards to minors because their brains are still developing.
Because marijuana would be regulated like alcohol, any rules, regulations and laws fall under the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control within the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
The division would be required to adopt regulations such as:
- Licensing procedures
- Excise tax collection
- Enforcement and compliance of licensees
- Fee schedules
- Advertisement regulation
Taxes, fees and revenues
The initiatives would allow the state to establish a tax and authorize regulations and licensing procedures. An excise tax between 15 and 30 percent would be imposed sales of marijuana produced in Missouri. The language indicates the excise tax would not be considered a part of total state revenue or expense of state government.
Based on information from Colorado's Department of Public Safety, the Missouri Department of Public Safety indicates that enough small businesses would become licensed to generate "huge" profits that would contribute to state revenue.
According to the state auditor's fiscal note for the initiatives, annual revenue increases could range from $142 million to $217 million. These numbers, calculated by the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, represent an estimate for the minimum collected from excise taxes and licensing fees.
What it would cost the state
According to the state auditor's fiscal note, initial costs for the government oversight would be $1 million with at least $4.6 million in annual operating costs, possibly offset by unknown savings in the criminal justice system. These costs were calculated with input from more than 50 agencies, including the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the Missouri House of Representatives and MU.
The Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control would need to provide space for four additional district offices across the state as well as hire full-time staff for the existing office in Jefferson City. A computerized system of tax stamps is estimated at a $1 million for the first two years.
The Missouri Department of Corrections indicated that, if passed, the initiatives would save the department money by decreasing the number of people in prison on on probation and parole.
Supervising editor is John Schneller.