In a transfer highlighting a rising divide amongst Black leaders and organizations in Missouri over a push to legalize marijuana, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on Tuesday introduced she would oppose the measure showing on the Nov. 8 poll as Modification 3.
Whereas she helps legalization, Jones mentioned she doesn’t help etching what she believes is a probably inequitable legalization course of into the state’s structure the place “it may be troublesome to change.”
“If we select the trail of a constitutional modification to resolve the matter of legalization, it must be forward-thinking, versatile and most of all, equitable,” Jones mentioned in an announcement. “This modification fails to satisfy that lofty intention. Merely put, legalization doesn’t equal decriminalization.”
Jones joins state Rep. Ashley Bland-Manlove, chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, who started advocating towards Modification 3 early on, in addition to the Missouri NAACP, which introduced its opposition final month.
Each argue the modification will create the “everlasting exclusion” of minorities from the hashish business.
But on the identical day as Jones’ announcement, and on the opposite aspect of the state, Freedom Inc., a Black-led civil rights group in Kansas Metropolis, introduced its help of the modification.
“Day by day that goes by the place hashish remains to be unlawful in Missouri, is a day when justice is just not being served,” mentioned Rodney Bland, president of Freedom Inc.
Freedom Inc. joins Motion STL Energy Mission, the political-organizing engine that helped get Jones elected in April 2021, and Kansas Metropolis Mayor Quinton Lucas in praising the proposal’s measure to expunge marijuana costs from individuals’s prison data.
And whereas the statewide NAACP opposes the modification, the St. Louis metropolis chapter has been amongst its most vocal proponents.
“If the world is altering and voters overwhelmingly imagine marijuana ought to be authorized, then clearing previous convictions is an ethical crucial,” mentioned John Payne, marketing campaign supervisor for Authorized Missouri 2022.
The licensing course of
On the heart of the opponents’ concern with Modification 3 are caps on licenses to develop, transport and promote marijuana that had been imposed by state regulators after voters created Missouri’s medical marijuana program in 2018.
The state determined to solely subject the minimum number of licenses allowed for medical marijuana — 60 cultivation licenses, 192 dispensary licenses and 86 manufacturing licenses. Since then, the state has issued round 20 further licenses, together with some which had been ordered to be issued by the administrative hearing commission because of irregularities within the utility scoring course of.
Few licenses went to Black-owned companies.
Modification 3 would enable the state to proceed capping licenses whereas giving present medical marijuana license holders first dibs on the extra profitable leisure licenses.
“This modification, regardless of having optimistic parts, reads prefer it was designed to profit present distributors and license holders — not on a regular basis individuals,” Jones mentioned. “I acknowledge the issues and stratification created by the modification’s licensing system.”
Nimrod Chapel, Jr., president of the Missouri NAACP, mentioned after his group introduced its opposition to Modification 3 that the proposal has the monetary backing of most of the state’s largest medical marijuana license holders who’re attempting to “carve out the whole marketplace for themselves.”
“They’re definitely Caucasian run, led and owned,” he mentioned of the present medical marijuana license holders, “and minority participation has been fully not noted of the equation.”
Modification 3 supporters say the system’s racial inequities can be addressed by way of the 144 “micro licenses,” the place candidates should be a resident from a ZIP code with excessive marijuana incarceration charges or meet different such necessities.
“That’s why I help it and pushed for the micro licenses piece,” Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis Metropolis NAACP chapter, mentioned in an interview with The Unbiased final month, “as a result of the micro license dictates that it goes to individuals who have been deprived.”
At the moment, one of many greatest struggles for a lot of smaller medical marijuana firms is acquiring capital. Marijuana remains to be unlawful on a federal stage, so financial institution loans will not be an choice, Pruitt mentioned.
Relating to the caps, Pruitt mentioned it’s the state Division of Well being and Senior Companies that’s capping the licenses, not the modification language itself.
Nonetheless, Chapel argues the businesses funding the Modification 3 marketing campaign will foyer to maintain the caps in place which have shut Black companies out.
“It’s the keep-rich-people-rich invoice,” Chapel mentioned.
Within the month earlier than Election Day, Authorized Missouri has raised $1.3 million from companies concerned within the marijuana business. It has reported spending greater than $1.4 million, with most of that going in direction of media buys.
Save Our State, the political motion committee fashioned in September to oppose Modification 3, has not reported elevating any cash.
Modification 3 additionally features a course of for Missourians with nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to automatically expunge their criminal records.
It could arrange a timeline for when courts need to expunge data relying on the category of offenses, the place misdemeanor offenses can be adjudicated first. The courts would have one yr to order the expungements of people who find themselves not in jail or on parole or probation.
The charges and tax revenues from the marijuana program would go in direction of paying for expungements, in response to the petition.
Supporters say the expungement measures are among the many most far-reaching but proposed within the nation.
“The Conflict on Medication has been primarily waged towards individuals of colour, and it’s time for the insanity to finish,” mentioned Garrett Griffin, spokesman for Communities Creating Opportunities, within the joint assertion with Freedom Inc. “Simply as nobody ought to have been rotting in jail within the Nineteen Twenties over alcohol, no Missourian or American ought to be punished for utilizing marijuana.”
Critics say expungement is vital to marijuana legalization, however argue Modification 3 doesn’t go far sufficient.
Chapel pointed to a provision within the petition that states the funding for expungement is contingent on approval from the legislature and governor’s workplace.
And expungement, Chapel mentioned, doesn’t seem like their precedence.
“I simply look again at how the medical marijuana licensing course of has gone, and it is filled with nothing however controversy,” Chapel mentioned. “I don’t have any expectation that the expungement program — which the legislature and maybe the governor will not be absolutely behind — can be run in any completely different or higher approach than the medical marijuana debacle.”
Payne mentioned getting the legislature to make this appropriation doesn’t concern him as a result of the funds “can’t be spent elsewhere.”
Opponents additionally expressed frustration that Modification 3 contains sure penalties for marijuana use that, as a result of they are going to be included within the state structure, shall be troublesome to repair.
A change to the structure should be authorized by a statewide vote. Points could be positioned on the poll both by the legislature or by way of the initiative petition course of — which Chapel famous could be an costly and time-consuming course of.
“There appears to be an actual spirit that that is adequate or that is going to be a very good begin,” Chapel mentioned of Modification 3. “However that is our structure. It’s sort of a giant deal, and I feel that it’s price our time to get it proper.”