Lawsuit asks judge to block marijuana legalization from appearing on Missouri ballot

The lawsuit argues the initiative petition violates single-subject rules and didn’t have a sufficient number of signatures to qualify for the ballot

By: - August 22, 2022 10:01 am

The lawsuit argues the initiative petition to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri was improperly certified by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and should not appear on the November ballot (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

An anti-drug legalization activist has filed a lawsuit arguing a recreational marijuana initiative petition was improperly certified by Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and should not appear on the November ballot.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Cole County Circuit Court — the final day within the 10-day window outlined under state law for challenges to be brought to initiative petitions once they’re certified. It did not appear in the online court docket until Monday morning. 

It argues that the petition changes multiple sections of the Missouri Constitution in violation of single-subject rules and its backers did not secure the minimum number of signatures to warrant its inclusion on the November ballot.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Joy Sweeney, a Jefferson City resident, who also serves as the deputy director of training, technical assistance and community outreach for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a group of community coalitions that aim to prevent substance use and abuse.

Protect Our Kids PAC, a Colorado-based super PAC launched earlier this year that opposes the legalization of drugs, is helping support the lawsuit. Luke Niforatos, the group’s CEO, called the initiative petition “a scam.”

“Not only does the language deceive voters about the harms of legalization, it is in violation of state law and the Missouri Constitution,” Niforatos said in a statement. “…We hope the courts will rule on this issue expeditiously and spare Missouri’s children from targeting by Big Marijuana.”

JoDonn Chaney, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the office had not been officially served and could not comment on the lawsuit’s specifics, but that the signature totals and process “speak for themselves.”

“The individuals responsible for submitting this (initiative petition) met the constitutional requirements as required by statute, therefore Secretary Ashcroft certified Amendment 3 to the ballot,” Chaney said. “The secretary followed the law and fulfilled his statutory duty and stands behind his certification.”

John Payne, a spokesman for the Legal Missouri campaign behind the initiative petition, said that it was the only one that had the grassroots support necessary to collect enough signatures to make the ballot.

“This lawsuit lacks merit and in less than three months Missouri will be the 20th state to regulate, tax and legalize cannabis,” Payne said.

If the petition’s certification had been based on just the signatures that were verified by local election authorities, then it would not have had enough valid signatures to make the ballot, the lawsuit argues.

The lawsuit asserts that Ashcroft “certified and counted signatures that were marked through by the local election authorities and, absent this action, the marijuana initiative petition would not have had a sufficient number of valid signatures in six of eight congressional districts.”

In order to qualify for the ballot, proposed constitutional amendments need to gather enough registered voters’ signatures to equal 8% of the vote from the 2020 gubernatorial election in each of six of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Unofficial tabulations last month showed the Legal Missouri campaign 2,275 signatures short of that threshold. But after the campaign initiated a review by the Secretary of State’s Office — a move that surprised longtime observers of the petition process — it had a surplus of signatures that qualified it for the ballot, The Independent reported Monday morning.

Records of signatures and voter rolls have not yet been provided under a request made under Missouri’s open records law, the lawsuit notes.

Additionally, the lawsuit contends the marijuana petition violates the single-subject rule by containing multiple subjects and unrelated matters.

Under the Missouri Constitution, initiative petitions amending the constitution, “shall not contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith…”

The lawsuit argues the measure not only would legalize recreational marijuana, but it would also criminalize possession of certain amounts, create a process for licensing and growing marijuana, establish taxing guidelines, create a new position to oversee licensure “on a preferential basis,” and create a system to expunge nonviolent marijuana offenses from criminal records.

Citing a 1990 Missouri Supreme Court opinion that affirmed a lower court’s decision to strike an initiative petition from the ballot for containing more than one subject, the lawsuit notes the single-subject rule is to prevent “logrolling… whereby unrelated subjects that individually might not muster enough support to pass are combined to generate necessary support.”

As outlined in state law, the lawsuit will be advanced on the court docket and heard and decided as quickly as possible.

This story has been updated since it was initially published to include additional comments.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covers education, health care and the legislature. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She most recently covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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