Missouri voters will get to vote on whether to legalize adult recreational marijuana on November 8.
The ballot initiative was launched this year by Legal Missouri 2022, a group that’s led by some of those who pushed for the 2018 amendment that legalized medical marijuana in the state and is backed by much of Missouri’s medical marijuana industry. The ballot question would essentially remove the state’s ban on marijuana sales, consumption and manufacturing for people who are 21 years of age or older.
The initiative also includes automatic expungement for people who have nonviolent weed-related crimes on their record. This means if someone does have a nonviolent weed charge, they won’t have to petition for their crimes to be expunged. It will just be removed from their record straight away.
Here’s what laws around marijuana are on the books in Missouri now.
Medical marijuana is already legal
Medical marijuana was legalized in Missouri in 2018 by nearly two-thirds of voters.
People who qualify can purchase medical marijuana from a state-licensed dispensary, if they have a medical ID card from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Patients can only purchase up to 4 ounces of marijuana within 30 days.
Kansas City already decriminalizes marijuana
In 2020, Kansas City decriminalized marijuana possession, removing it as a crime from the city code. That means Kansas City police aren’t supposed to arrest you for a city crime of marijuana possession, but they could still ticket you or arrest you for violating state laws or for distribution.
The state laws in Missouri have partially decriminalized marijuana possession too. If a person is caught with 10 grams, they can only be fined and could receive a criminal misdemeanor.
In Jackson County, the prosecutor has pledged not to charge people for most marijuana possession cases, with an exception for people who are suspected of selling.
If a person gets caught up in Clay, Platte or Cass counties, there is still a chance that they could be charged for violating state laws if they are caught with more than 10 grams of marijuana.
What are marijuana charges like in Missouri?
If a person is caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana, they can be charged a $500 fine for a class D misdemeanor. If they are caught a second time, they could be subject to either one year in jail or a $2,000 fine. Kansas City police are not supposed to arrest for marijuana possession.
If a person is caught with more than 10 grams, they will be charged with a class A misdemeanor and could receive either a year in jail or a $2,000 fine on the first offense.
Usually, for a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, police, sheriff’s departments or the Missouri Highway Patrol will write a ticket, which is then forwarded to either the county or municipal prosecutor’s office for review and potential filing.
Possession of 35 grams or more is considered a felony offense and could result in seven years in jail or a $10,000 maximum fine.
The stakes are a bit higher for those suspected of selling and distributing weed illegally. In Missouri, a local weed plug can be charged with a felony and serve four years in jail for less than 35 grams.
Meanwhile, it is technically legal to purchase more than four ounces of medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary each month with the right credentials. For context, that’s upwards of 112 grams of weed.
This is one major reason why activists called for the automatic expungement of nonviolent weed charges to be included in the ballot initiative this fall.
Who is charged with marijuana-related crimes in Missouri?
In Missouri, 50% of drug arrests are due to marijuana possession. Black Missourians are more than twice as likely to be arrested for possession than white Missourians, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
What does expungement really mean?
When states legalize marijuana, typically that includes conversations about past marijuana convictions. Many advocates, including organizers at Legal Missouri 2022, see expungement as the first step to reconciling with the reality that many people are facing years in prison for a substance that could soon be legal.
Expunging a record means that the court will seal a criminal charge so it is no longer public. However, the record can still be unsealed with a court order, according to the Missouri Bar.
The ballot initiative calls for automatic expungement for nonviolent marijuana charges. Sealing those records could affect thousands of people’s access to employment, housing and wages. Expungement would not apply to people with charges of violent crimes, or whose offenses involved distribution to a minor or driving under the influence of marijuana.
Other states that have automatic expungement on certain marjiuana charges include California, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico, New York and Vermont.
Other criminal justice reform activists still have concerns about the ballot initiative—even with the expungement clause—because it also includes other criminal penalties that would then become enshrined in the state constitution, like a provision that allows for fines of up to $100 for smoking marijuana in public.
The Star’s Kacen Bayless, Jon Shorman and Glenn Rice contributed reporting.
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