Recreational marijuana advocate, dispensary manager prepare for November vote in Missouri

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Columbia attorney Dan Viets has promoted legalizing recreational marijuana for decades, and if his prediction and polls are correct, it could happen in November when voters statewide will cast ballots on the matter.

"The data that we have from very recent independent polling is that 62% of Missouri voters approve it," Viets said. "We're not taking anything for granted, but the data we have certainly indicated we have a good chance of passage."

In recent years, there hasn't been a marijuana legalization measure that has failed, he said.

Medical marijuana has been allowed in Missouri since 2018.

The issue transcends party politics, Viets said.

"The national polling shows close to half of Republicans support legalizing marijuana," Viets said, adding that a larger majority of Democrats support it.

"It's clearly nonpartisan," Viets said. "It's not a partisan issue."

The fact that the issue made it onto the ballot through initiative petition shows that Missourians can't rely on the Missouri General Assembly to represent their views, he said.

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Several other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have set the stage for Missouri, he said.

The Missouri Health & Wellness Dispensary at 1404A Missouri Blvd. in Jefferson City is seen last year.
The Missouri Health & Wellness Dispensary at 1404A Missouri Blvd. in Jefferson City is seen last year.

"Our experience will be similar to that of the 19 other states that have legalized it," Viets said. "We will stop arresting 20,000 people a year for usually very small amounts of marijuana. It also will expunge the criminal records of hundreds of thousands of people with marijuana convictions. Presently it's causing them issues with employment or with purchasing a car or a home. A criminal record can be life-changing."

An American Civil Liberties Union report from 2020 found that Blacks in Missouri are 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.

Marijuana isn't addictive and isn't as hazardous to health as tobacco or alcohol, he said.

"Far from being a gateway drug, marijuana has been a substitute for truly deadly and addictive drugs," Viets said.

The most damage marijuana does is when people are treated like criminals because they use it, Viets said.

Viets pointed to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey that showed marijuana use by teenagers in that state with legalized recreational marijuana was down.

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"I think it's likely to pass," Viets said of the Missouri measure. "I think it will likely do better in more educated areas of the state, but support is really broad."

While most people will want the convenience of buying pot at a dispensary, there will be the option to cultivate it for your own use, he said.

"Personal cultivation is authorized under this measure," Viets said.

Toby White, manager of Hippos Marijuana Dispensary at 2500 Broadway Bluffs Drive, Suite 102, is preparing for approval of the referendum.

"I think it's going to be amazing for Missouri," White said. "We're gearing up for that. It's going to mean more jobs. I think it's really going to be a big tax revenue from that."

All that remains is getting voters to turn out in November, he said.

"Just getting it on the ballot was the hard part," White said.

There may be some additional bureaucratic hoops to jump through to accommodate both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana customers, but he said it shouldn't be too difficult since the business already is licensed for medical marijuana.

"The way our stores are designed, we're ready to take on that recreational traffic," White said.

The expungement aspect of the Missouri law is important, because Missouri is the first state in the country to include that, White said.

Roger McKinney is the education reporter for the Tribune. You can reach him at rmckinney@columbiatribune.com or 573-815-1719. He's on Twitter at @rmckinney9.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Recreational marijuana vote likely to pass in Missouri, advocates say