A person rolls a marijuana joint in a file photo.
The amendment goes into effect on Dec. 8, which is when the Department of Health and Senior Services, the agency that manages the program, will transition already-operating medical license holders to simple recreational licenses. Those transitions could come as soon as the beginning of February, depending on how long the department takes to transition the licenses. (File photo)

Editor’s note: We have updated this story to reflect that St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones did not support Amendment 3.

Missourians on Tuesday voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, create measures for equity in the state’s new distribution system and expunge some nonviolent marijuana offenses. By passing Amendment 3, they joined voters in Maryland to become the 20th and 21st states to allow adults to use weed for nonmedical purposes. 

The measure passed statewide in Missouri 53% to 47%, according to The Associated Press, with 89% of the vote reported. 

Missourians over 21 will now be able to go to a dispensary without a medical marijuana card and buy flower, pre-rolled joints, edibles and other marijuana products. 

Voters in Arkansas, Nebraska, Maryland, North Dakota and South Dakota also voted on marijuana legalization questions on Tuesday. 

The amendment goes into effect on Dec. 8, which is when the Department of Health and Senior Services, the agency that manages the program, will transition already-operating medical license holders to simple recreational licenses. The measure was backed by the same group that successfully passed 2018’s referendum for medical marijuana in Missouri. 

Those transitions could come as soon as the beginning of February, depending on how long the department takes to transition the licenses. 

For the first year and a half of the recreational program, the department will only issue licenses to medical marijuana facilities converting their operations into more comprehensive businesses.

The vote was contested, with many longtime legalization advocates campaigning against the measure over fears for how the market would be administered by DHSS. Progressive groups like the Missouri chapter of the NAACP, Pro-Choice Missouri and the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus opposed the measure. 

The measure was potentially buoyed by a late-stage endorsement from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.

“Seriously, on legal recreational cannabis… A lot of folks have been caught up in a system that disproportionately and negatively impacted only some,” Lucas tweeted as results were coming in Tuesday night. “Missouri’s step is a huge one to reduce the harms that too many of us have seen for a lifetime. This is good news for our state.” 

What happens next with expungement?

By passing Amendment 3, Missouri voters also became the first in the nation to support an automatic expungement measure for nonviolent offenses on a statewide ballot. 

Any person who is currently incarcerated due to a misdemeanor marijuana offense or a class E or D felony that involved three pounds or less of marijuana is able to petition the sentencing court to vacate the sentence and order expungement of their records. The expungement should be granted, absent good cause for denial. The same goes for persons on probation or parole for marijuana-related misdemeanors and low-level felonies.

The amendment does not state what defines good cause for denial, leaving the sentencing courts to make individual decisions. Some critics have expressed worries about that ambiguity. 

Here are some of the deadlines called for in Amendment 3:

  • Within six months of the amendment going into effect, around June 2023,  circuit courts across the state are expected to order the expungement of misdemeanor marijuana offenses for people no longer incarcerated or on probation or parole. 
  • For class A, B or C felony offenses, or class D felony offenses of possession of more than three pounds of marijuana, circuit courts shall order expungement of criminal history records upon completion of state supervision.
  • Within 90 days of the amendment going into effect, sentencing courts across the state are expected to issue adjudications for cases involving misdemeanor marijuana offenses. 
  • Within 180 days, courts would complete adjudication for cases involving class E felony marijuana offenses.
  • Within 270 days, sentencing courts would issue adjudications for class D felonies involving 3 pounds or less of marijuana. 

There is no process outlined for adjudication of cases involving more than three pounds of marijuana. 

Where do the new tax dollars go?

A 6% tax rate will apply to nonmedical marijuana sales in the state. At least 2% of the revenue made will be put into a “veterans, health and community reinvestment fund” created by the state treasury. The fund will pay for operating expenses related to the state’s recreational program. It will also be paid to assist agencies in carrying out the expungement provisions in the amendment. 

The remaining balance will be split in thirds between the state’s veterans commission, grants to increase drug addiction treatment, and the public defender system for legal assistance to low-income Missourians.

Supporters of the measure also point to Kansans crossing state lines to buy weed as an additional revenue source. 

What happens under Amendment 3 if weed is legalized federally?

If the drug is decriminalized federally to allow for multistate commerce, the amendment states that Missouri’s law would stay the same unless it is preempted by the federal law. 

Missouri has preemption laws surrounding other federal issues, like gun control measures, that keep federal law from being enforced here. 

Public use of marijuana would still be prohibited, as well as driving while under the influence of the drug or selling any marijuana products to someone under 21. 

Who gets to open a dispensary or cultivation facility?

DHSS will create a lottery process to select which applicants will receive licenses, except in the cases of already established medical marijuana operations, which the state will grandfather into the legal program. 

Some people with felony convictions would be barred from getting a license. If a person’s felony is from a cannabis offense or  nonviolent crime, or it has been more than five years since the person was convicted of a different felony offense, they would still be eligible to apply for a license.

For dispensaries, cultivation facilities or marijuana product facilities, owners cannot own more than 10% of the state’s market.

DHSS will develop any applications, certifications or licenses related to operating a marijuana business, as well as programs to track marijuana plants from when they are seeds to when they are sold. The department will also create a lottery process to select which new applicants will receive licenses.

How do microbusinesses work?

Under Amendment 3, the state’s recreational program will also create microbusiness dispensaries or wholesale facilities, which are more restricted licenses that can only do business with other micro-license holders. 

This provision will open the market to people with limited wealth, veterans with disabilities and people in families and neighborhoods that have been harmed by the prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses.  The department can restrict the number of microbusiness licenses issued, and will begin issuing the licenses six at a time. It will  publish license application forms for microbusiness facilities by June 2023 and start reviewing the applications by September 2023. 

Can I grow weed at home?

Missourians 21 and older can obtain personal cultivation cards, which will allow up to six flowering plants, six nonflowering plants (plants over 14 inches) and six clone plants (plants under 14 inches). The cards are valid for one year and would have an annual fee of $150.

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...