JEFFERSON CITY — Despite pouring nearly $6 million into the effort, proponents of legalizing marijuana in Missouri may have failed to get the issue on the November ballot.
Preliminary tallies indicate the initiative may have narrowly failed to garner enough voter signatures in two of the six congressional districts needed to be on the ballot.
However, that could change. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office is reviewing reports recently submitted by county election officials and will make a decision by Aug. 9.
And, he says, the result is not a done deal.
“I can’t say without any certainty whether he will get there or not. It is by no means certain that they will fail. It’s not dead,” Ashcroft said.
In order to place the question on the ballot, proponents of the plan need the signatures of 8% of registered voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts.
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The medical cannabis industry-backed group, Legal Missouri, has submitted enough signatures in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th congressional districts.
But in two western Missouri districts, the 6th and 7th, the latest county reviews show everyone falling short. KFVS-TV, the CBS affiliate serving Cape Girardeau, reported District 7 was about 400 signatures short, based on information from Newton County.
Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager John Payne said supporters aren’t giving up.
“The Legal Missouri 2022 Campaign continues to work to ensure that every valid voter signature is counted correctly, and is excited that Missouri voters will soon have the opportunity to decide for themselves,” Payne said.
In May, the coalition submitted more than 700 petition boxes containing more than 400,000 voter signatures to legalize adult-use marijuana and automatically erase most past nonviolent cannabis offenses.
These signatures were scanned and then distributed to county election officials for verification. Payne said that’s where the potential problem lies.
“Our careful review of voter signature totals submitted to the state by counties shows that we have more than enough signatures to qualify our citizens’ initiative for balloting in the November general election – and that some counties , due to their reliance on temporary workers, mistakenly rejected thousands of valid voter signatures. To be clear, this is not to suggest or imply any wrongdoing on the part of the counties,” a added Payne.
Ashcroft also said there could be a scenario where a temporary worker “hit the wrong button” or miscount a signature page.
“There were times in the past when we went back and checked, we found enough signatures,” Ashcroft said.
After years of failing to convince state lawmakers to legalize pot products for recreational use, a coalition of medical marijuana companies operating in the state funded much of the cost of the ballot initiative .
Under the plan, Missouri would become the 20th state where recreational pot sales are legal.
Companies that hold medical marijuana licenses would be the first to sell recreational cannabis products. The wording also calls for expunging marijuana-related offenses from criminal records.
The ballot initiative was seen as the likeliest route to legalizing marijuana after the Legislature again wavered over a bill that would have removed marijuana and THC from the list of controlled substances. It would also allow people to ask the courts to have pot charges expunged.
But the effort failed in the House in the final days of the spring legislative session. It was also unclear whether he had enough support in the Senate.
The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, is time-limited and will not return to the House next year.
The potential problems facing the marijuana initiative come after a separately proposed constitutional amendment on election changes apparently failed to garner enough valid signatures.
The Better Elections plan would abolish partisan primaries and allow voters to rank their top four choices, regardless of party.
The top four voters would qualify for a general election, and voters would either rank their top four choices again or simply vote for their first choice.
Although his deficit is not yet official, Better Elections issued a statement in June acknowledging that they are unlikely to participate in the ballot depending on their signature.