Will Missouri’s marijuana ballot initiative affect the senate race?

Marijuana plants about 7-10 days away from harvesting grow at Greenlight Dispensary's cultivation plant in Kansas City.  Voters in Missouri will decide in November whether to legalize adult recreational marijuana use, paving the way for Missouri to potentially become the 20th state to legalize and tax the drug.

Marijuana plants about 7-10 days away from harvesting grow at Greenlight Dispensary’s cultivation plant in Kansas City. Voters in Missouri will decide in November whether to legalize adult recreational marijuana use, paving the way for Missouri to potentially become the 20th state to legalize and tax the drug.

jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

Democratic US Senate nominee Trudy Busch Valentine came out in support of a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri, as her Republican counterpart declined to take a stand on the issue.

The ballot initiative, which comes four years after the state legalized medicinal use of the drug, injects a new policy issue into the campaign for US Senate as Busch Valentine faces Missouri Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt in the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.

“This November, I will be voting yes to legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana in Missouri,” Busch Valentine said. “This ballot initiative would potentially make us the 20th state in the nation to do so.”

Amid federal inaction on marijuana policy — Congress has not even been able to pass legislation that would remove marijuana from the same category of the most restricted drugs like heroin, peyote and LSD — states and cities have stepped in to allow the drug to be used for medicinal and recreational purposes.

If it passes, the Missouri ballot initiative would legalize the sale, purchase and use of recreational marijuana in Missouri for people who are older than 21. It would also automatically expunge the records of those convicted of non-violent marijuana charges.

Schmitt’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment via email and phone call. He has not taken a position on the ballot measure.

Schmitt, during his tenure in the Missouri Senate, vocally supported the legalization of CBD oil, a type of product that is made from the extract of a marijuana plant.

Polls show that legalization of recreational marijuana is popular. A CBS News/YouGov poll in April found that 66% of voters supported the legalization of recreational marijuana at both the state and federal level. But legalization had more support among Democrats (79%) and Independents (67%) then among Republicans, among whom 51% said it should be illegal.

But a Pew Research poll in 2021 found that 47% of Republicans supported legalizing marijuana while 41% opposed legalization.

John Wood, a former Republican running as an independent candidate in the race, said he did not support the ballot measure, though he does support marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

“I do not support it for recreational purposes, primarily, because I think it can be a gateway drug, leading to use of more serious drugs that can really cause great harm to people and to our communities,” Wood said.

Wood last week delivered 22,000 signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office in support of his petition to join the November ballot as an independent— a total more than double the required 10,000. He is expected to be added to the ballot upon the signatures’ verification.

Busch Valentine’s son died of an overdose in 2020 and she has often talked about how she wants to address the opioid epidemic if she makes it to the US Senate. In explaining why she supports the ballot initiative, she noted that some of the revenue from the bill will go to drug and alcohol addiction services.

“It’s one of the reasons why I’m in this race,” Busch Valentine wrote. “We have to get serious about solving our country’s devastating opioid epidemic, and investing more resources to expand treatment options so people can get clean and recover.”

While Busch Valentine came out in support of the initiative, it remains to be seen whether her campaign will attempt to push the issue to the forefront, they way she has emphasized abortion rights. Some Democrats, like John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, have emphasized their support for legalizing marijuana in attempt to push voter turnout.

A 2016 study by the Brookings Institute found that ballot initiatives legalizing Democratic marijuana had a coattails effect for candidates, in part because it helped increase young voter turnout, a group that overwhelmingly supports Democrats.

But even as more Democrats have embraced legalization, it has resulted in little action at the federal level, where legislation has been unable to get through a US Senate where 50 members are 66 or older, (the Social Security Retirement Age for full benefits) and seven are older than 80 (four of them were alive when the movie “Reefer Madness” came out in 1936). President Joe Biden has said he is for decriminalization but he has stopped short of backing full legalization.

Support for legalized recreational marijuana is lowest among people who are 65 or older, according to Pew, with 46% in support.

This story was originally published August 10, 2022 12:52 PM.

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Daniel Desrochers covers Washington, DC for the Kansas City Star. He previously covered politics and government for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky and the Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia.

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