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Midterm elections and marijuana: Part IV, medical cannabis initiatives

By Rick Schettino
Nov 06, 2018

The fourth and final piece in PotNetwork’s look at some of the dynamics of the midterm election as they relate to the legalization of marijuana. Today we take a look at two state ballot initiatives which could legalize cannabis for medicinal use. We provide an overview of their content and what it would mean to each state if they pass, and take a look at the polls heading into election day.

Two states will be voting on medical marijuana initiatives today — Utah and Missouri. In this piece, we’ll take a look at the details of each initiative, what it will mean for each state should they pass, and the likelihood of passage according to recent polls (there’s a twist).

Both of the medical marijuana initiatives and the campaigns surrounding them are fascinating and unprecedented. In Missouri, voters are choosing between three competing measures, two of which are constitutional amendments, while in Utah, ahead of the vote, both sides have come to a compromise which will be implemented regardless of final election results.

[Midterm elections and marijuana: Part III, recreational use initiatives]

Let’s have a look at what’s going on in Missouri and Utah this election day.

Missouri

Missouri’s story is one of the more interesting in the annals of medical marijuana ballot initiatives. Rather than having a single ballot initiative, or even two competing initiatives, voters in the “Show Me State” will have three options to choose from in a winner take all race.

The measure with the most votes wins. That means the most important thing for Missourians to realize is that if they vote for all three of them, although they’ll be helping one of them to pass, they’ll essentially be negating their vote on which one of them becomes law. That being said, if a voter is not knowledgeable enough on the issue to decide which initiative would be best for the state, it’s better to vote for two or all three rather than for none at all.

Let’s go over all three them one at a time.

Amendment 2

Passage of Amendment 2 would put the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services in charge of implementing a medical marijuana program. It would provide for the development of a statewide marijuana market and regulatory system which would include the licensing and oversight of medical marijuana growers and retailers.

Amendment 2 is a constitutional amendment. What this means is that if the measure passes, it will be much more difficult for lawmakers to make revisions.

Amendment 2 would impose a 4 percent tax on marijuana sales which would be earmarked first to cover the expenses of implementing the program. Estimates put revenue from marijuana taxes at $18 million yearly. Any funds over and above the expenses — which are estimated to be only $7 million annually — would be redirected to the Missouri Veterans Commission proving the agency with somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million annually.

[Midterm elections and marijuana: Part II, US governors’ races]

Amendment 2 is the only one of the three measures that give patients and caretakers the legal right to grow cannabis. It allows state-licensed medical patients to grow up to six plants at home while caregivers would be allowed to grow up to 18 plants. The measure requires that plants be in a locked enclosure and subject to state inspection. Growers would be required to register with the state and pay a $100 annual fee.

Amendment 2 has endorsements from the state’s most influential newspapers including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, the Springfield News-Leader, the Joplin Globe and the St. Louis American, as well as the Epilepsy Foundation of Missouri and Kansas, Adolphus M. Pruitt, the president of St. Louis City NAACP, and the Missouri Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (reportedly the first such organization in the country to support a medical marijuana proposal).

Opponents of the measures include Dr. Joy Sweeney, Executive Director of Council for Drug-Free Youth, the Kansas City Medical Society, the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society, the Missouri State Medical Association and the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians & Surgeons.

Amendment 3

A second proposed constitutional amendment, Amendment 3, is one of the more interesting and unique medical cannabis initiatives ever proposed. The measure was bankrolled by Springfield physician and lawyer Brad Bradshaw. It’s interesting in that it puts Bradshaw himself in charge of setting up a board to oversee the development and operations of a new medical research center devoted to curing cancer. Furthermore, the proposal includes no government oversight and gives Bradshaw’s board the power of eminent domain to obtain property.

Adding to the unconventional nature of this effort, Bradshaw challenged the signature-collection methods of two competing proposals and sued the state to have them removed from the ballot. That effort was squashed by former state Supreme Court Judge Mike Wolff who was instrumental in getting the case tossed out of court.

[Midterm elections and marijuana: Part I, US Congress]

Constitutional Amendment 3 calls for a 15 percent consumer sales tax, as well as an excise tax on sales by growers of $9.25 per ounce for dry flower and $2.75 per ounce for leaves. Half of the tax revenue would be set aside to fund the development and operation of the cancer research center.

A key difference between Amendments 2 and 3 aside from the wide margin in tax rates is that Amendment 3 would only allow patients to purchase marijuana through licensed dispensaries and would prohibit patients from growing their own medicine.

Proposition C

Unlike the above two initiatives, Proposition C, which was penned by lobbyist Travis Brown, is a statutory rather than constitutional amendment. This makes it easier for state lawmakers to tinker with the measure. On the upside, it would make it far easier to add licenses should additional growers and dispensaries be required to meet demand. The measure would delegate marijuana oversight to the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Public Safety.

Proposition C would make medical cannabis legal in Missouri while imposing a 2 percent tax on sales. Proceeds would be earmarked for services for veterans, drug treatment programs, early childhood education, and public safety.

A meager two percent tax on the sale of marijuana called for by the measure would be earmarked for funding veteran services, drug rehabilitation programs, and early childhood education programs. According to the Missouri Secretary of State's Office, both expenses and revenue have been estimated at around $10 million annually.

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Unlike Amendments 2 and 3, Proposition C would give local governments the right to opt out of the program.

Proposition C does not include an allowance for patients to grow their own medicine.

Prospects of passing

Although there has been a marked lack of polling on voter support for these initiatives, two polls conducted in 2018 put support for all three measures at a comfortable 60-plus percent with a sizable percentage of undecided voters. It looks likely that all three, or at least two of the three measures will pass with Amendment 2 enjoying the most support.

If all three measures pass, technically the one with the most support wins. However, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who oversees elections, expects legal battles if more than one initiative passes.

Utah

Utah’s medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 2, has come with a twist. The battle over the measure between the Utah Patients Coalition and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints drew national attention to the state. Then in the final stretch leading up to the election, the opposing sides reached a compromise.  

If passed, Proposition 2, would establish a state-regulated medical marijuana market, allowing patients with a wide range of qualifying health conditions to obtain smokable and edible cannabis products for medicinal use. Qualifying conditions include HIV, chronic pain, autism, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, ALS, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The measures also allow licensed patients to grow up to six plants for personal use.

Although the initiative started out with overwhelming support, with a high of 77 percent in mid-February, by mid-October that support had dwindled to just 51 percent by mid-October as direct result of highly critical radio ads paid for by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which claimed that the measure was a stepping stone to full legalization.

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More than 60 percent of the state's three millions residents are members of the Utah-based church which requires its members to avoid vices such as alcohol, caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea, tobacco, and illegal drugs.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert upped the ante by saying that regardless of whether or not the measure passed, he would push for the development of a medical marijuana bill by the state legislature.

A compromise heads off the vote

In a rare turn of events, the two opposing sides on the issue have come to a compromise which will be instantiated whether or not voters pass the measure.

The compromise was put together by a coalition of state and local lawmakers, medical cannabis advocates, and the LDS church. It bans the proposed home grows and smokeables, but allows for the use of edibles and cannabis oil vaporizers. It also calls for the establishment of a state-run distribution network.

Under the compromise, medical marijuana patients get access to medicine, while opponents, seeking to stem the tide legal marijuana successfully crush the sale of smokables.

The future of medical marijuana in Utah and Missouri

Barring any major turns of events, it’s looking very much as if Missouri will get its constitutionally guaranteed medical marijuana program complete with generous home-grow provisions, and Utah will see the development of a legislative groundwork for a limited, state-run medical cannabis program which only allows the use of edibles and vapables.

Quite a few U.S. states have launched recreational, adult-use cannabis programs by first implementing a medical marijuana program. It’s very likely that this is the direction in which Missouri is headed. However, this is much more unlikely to happen in Utah where the majority of voters are Mormons.

Stay tuned to PotNetwork for our post-election coverage of these and the two recreational initiatives as well as the various Senate and governor’s races which have the potential to change the landscape of legal marijuana in the U.S.

In all likelihood, the 2018 midterms will turn out to be an encore to the 2016 elections in which prohibitionists got buried under a green landslide.

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