Missouri is known for a lot of things. Smoking weed is not one of them.
On matters of drugs, religion, education, and guns, Missouri — most of which lies within the “Bible Belt” — has always taken a staunchly conservative stance and has shown little tolerance for non-traditional thinkers.
So it is a pleasant surprise to all parties concerned that although Missouri just recently legalized recreational marijuana, sales have been outpacing every state in the Union. The state is on track to reach a billion dollars in total sales quicker than any state that has fully legalized marijuana — including California.
In this article, we will take a look at Missouri’s track record on drug reform legislation. We will also examine what’s driving the exponential growth in sales and take a peek at the future of psychedelic drugs in the state.
To say that the Missouri State Medical Association (MSMA) has an issue with legalizing weed in Missouri is putting it mildly. The group has been almost fanatical in its opposition to approving marijuana — medical or recreational — for use in the state.
Missouri, a “red” state where only 20% of the population identifies as liberal, has never been known to connoisseurs of cannabis as “user friendly.” But the MSMA takes it a couple of steps further by declaring the legalization of marijuana in Missouri “a medical and social catastrophe in the making.”
The measure to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri flew under the radar until a few months ago. It gathered nearly twice as many signatures as needed to get on the ballot and received little or no resistance in the early stages. However, just weeks before time to vote on the measure, opposition from some pretty heavy hitters came fast and furious.
Organizations that came out against legalization include:
- Missouri Baptist Convention
- Missouri NAACP
- Missouri Sheriffs United
- Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
- Missouri Hospital Association
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was also a naysayer. He alluded to allegations of corruption that have plagued Missouri”s medical marijuana program since it was voted into law in 2018. Ashcroft’s concern about allegations of misconduct in Missouri’s marijuana industry is a concern that is shared by much of the opposition.
“It’s my understanding that there are at least serious allegations that the people behind this amendment wrote this amendment as a way to enrich themselves,” Ashcroft said days before the vote on the measure. When pressed on the veracity of the allegations, Ashcroft responded, “They’re credible, doesn’t mean they’re true.”
The amendment was not without a coalition of impressive supporters, including:
- Missouri ACLU
- Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
- Missouri National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
- Missouri AFL-CIO
- Service Workers International Union
Legalization: State Law vs. Constitutional Amendment
Ashcroft made it pretty clear that he was not against the ultimate legalization of marijuana. His issue with the legislation is that it was presented as a state constitutional amendment rather than a statutory initiative or state law.
According to Ashcroft, legalizing recreational marijuana by way of a state constitutional amendment is tantamount to “carving it in stone.” That’s because, going forward, it is going to be very difficult to make any changes to the legislation.
In Missouri, citizens can initiate statutory laws or constitutional amendments by submitting a petition to the legislature. A constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the members of both houses before it is placed on the ballot.
In the Missouri 2022 mid-terms, a ballot measure increased the percentage of voters needed to pass a law or constitutional amendment from a simple majority to at least 60%. The amendment to legalize recreational marijuana was also on that ballot. It passed by 53%. According to Ashcroft, the new threshold will make future changes to any bill or amendment extremely difficult.
Ashcroft believes that a statutory initiative — or state law — would have been a more viable route for the legislation. Initiated statutes are put on the ballot through a signature petition signed by registered voters. Unlike constitutional amendments, they do not require a vote of two-thirds of each house.
Consequently, state laws are a lot easier to change. You gather the proper amount of signatures to get the measure on the ballot, the people vote on it, and it’s a done deal.
It took Missouri a while to get the deal done compared to the rest of the country. In 1996 California became the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana. In 2012 Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Missouri did not legalize medical marijuana until November 2018, and twenty states had legalized recreational marijuana before the “Show Me State” came on board in February 2023.
Missouri, which is considered a “highly conservative” state, may have been late out of the gate legalizing marijuana, but they covered a lot of ground in a hurry. They are on schedule to sell more weed in less time than any other state in the country.
In the first month recreational weed was legal in Missouri, the state shattered all previous sales records in the country and far outpaced all sales projections. Recreational marijuana sales were officially approved on Friday, February 3, 2023. The state sold over three million dollars worth of recreational weed that day, and by the end of the weekend, sales had topped $8.5 million.
Sales of recreational marijuana in the state for February 2023 were over $71 million. That’s twice the amount sold by the neighboring state, Illinois, which has twice as many people.
Total Missouri marijuana sales — recreational and medical — in March 2023 were $126.2 million. With sales increasing exponentially, Missouri is on pace to achieve $1 billion in sales by the end of the year, making it the fastest state to reach that milestone.
In his opposition to Amendment 3, Ashcroft said it was “way too much to add to the constitution.”
He was referring to the bureaucracy that it would create. In addition to legalizing recreational marijuana, the amendment also:
- Allows individuals convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to petition to be released from incarceration
- Automatically expunges the records of people who have been previously charged with nonviolent marijuana offenses
- Establishes regulations regarding the licensing of marijuana facilities
- Establishes a “seed-to-sale” tracking of marijuana
- Regulations regarding the marketing and advertising of marijuana
- Regulations regarding testing of marijuana and marijuana products
- Regulations regarding local control of marijuana use and facilities
Amendment 3 also requires that all marijuana sold in Missouri must be grown in the state. Medical marijuana identification cards are now valid for three years instead of 12 months, and the fee for the card has been reduced from $100 to $50.
In addition to the amending provisions above, there are a host of other regulatory prerequisites in Amendment 3. Apparently, the Missouri House and Senate disagreed with Ashcroft that it was too much to add to the Constitution.
Although it is illegal to transport marijuana from a state where it is legal to a state where it is not, dispensaries along neighboring state borders report a dramatic increase in sales fueled by out-of-state customers.
Missouri and Tennessee are tied for the state that borders the most other states. Of the eight states that border Missouri — Iowa to the north; Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee to the east; Arkansas to the south; and Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska to the west — only Illinois has legalized recreational marijuana.
Flora Farms President Mark Hendren says 50-60% of the recreational marijuana sold at the company’s dispensary in Neosho, MO — which is about 40 miles north of the Arkansas border and 20 miles east of the Oklahoma border — comes from out-of-state customers.
Since Missouri is a very red state with a Republican House, Senate, and Governor, cannabis advocates are encouraged that Amendment 3 will have a positive influence on legalization efforts in Missouri border states with similar political makeups.
Even more surprising than the ultra-conservative state of Missouri’s successful launch of recreational marijuana is its aggressive pursuit of legalizing some psychedelic compounds for medical research and therapeutic use.
The state has made some significant strides in 2023 toward the advancement of psychedelic medicine access in the state. After a series of committee hearings in the Missouri House in 2022, in January 2023, State Representative Tony Lovasco (R-St. Charles) filed a bill that would provide therapeutic access to psilocybin for people with serious mental health conditions.
At the same time, State Representative Dan Houx (R-Warrensburg) and State Senator Holly Thompson-Rehder (R-Sikeston) submitted legislation that would provide funding for clinical trials. In early April 2023, their clinical research funding proposal — House Bill 1154 — was amended to include Rep. Lovasco’s psilocybin access language. The final version was accepted by the House with a unanimous voice vote.
Drug reform lobbyist Eapen Thampy says he believes that bipartisan support for legalizing psychedelics is growing in Missouri. “Sure, with some lawmakers there might still be a level of stigma or even ignorance,” Thampy says.
“But we’re facing so many mental health crises right now; it’s hard to find a compelling or even coherent argument in opposition right now.” We’ve made significant gains for psychedelic medicine access in 2023 and look forward to likely passage of a psychedelic access bill in 2024,” he added.