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Missouri voters approve recreational marijuana and expunging past convictions

The passing of Missouri’s Constitutional Amendment 3 makes it the first state to decide by public vote to automatically forgive past crimes of marijuana possession .

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Jeremy Baldwin tags young cannabis plants at a marijuana farm operated by Greenlight, Oct. 31, 2022, in Grandview, Mo.

Jeremy Baldwin tags young cannabis plants at a marijuana farm operated by Greenlight on Oct. 31, 2022, in Grandview, Mo. While the state already had passed medical marijuana in 2018, voters in Missouri on Tuesday passed a constitutional amendment to decriminalize recreational marijuana.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

Missouri voters Tuesday passed Constitutional Amendment 3, which decriminalizes the possession and use of recreational marijuana.

Missouri Constitutional Amendment 3 passed by a smaller margin than the state’s 66% approval of medical marijuana back in 2018, as CNN reported, with 53.1% of voters in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, and 46.9% against. John Payne, campaign director for Legal Missouri 2022, said in an official statement that decriminalizing recreational use was “a long time coming and (Missourians) live in a better state for it.”

“Today’s vote immediately puts an end to nearly 20,000 arrests each year for minor marijuana violations, freeing up vital law enforcement resources to fight serious and violent crime,” said Payne.

According to the Missouri secretary of state’s official website, the amendment legalizes the “purchasing, possessing, consuming, using, delivering, manufacturing and selling” of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over. Missouri residents may possess up to three ounces of marijuana, except in the case of personal cultivation for prescribed amounts. Additionally, Amendment 3 includes a 6% tax on the retail price of marijuana.

One of the largest changes due to the amendment’s passage is how Missouri will handle past offenses related to the possession of recreational marijuana. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer, Missouri ranks sixth among the states for the highest number of arrests for marijuana possession.

In cases of nonviolent possession, usage and/or distribution, the state will allow individuals who have been charged to petition for release from prison or parole and probation. Arrests related to possession of marijuana will be automatically expunged from an individual’s record, no petition required.

Prior to the 2022 midterm elections, 19 states had legalized recreational marijuana, The Associated Press reported. Alongside Missouri, four other states voted on decriminalizing recreational marijuana, including Arkansas, Maryland, North Dakota and South Dakota. Only Missouri and Maryland’s constitutional amendments were approved, with Missouri becoming one of eight states that offers judicial forgiveness for past crimes that have since been decriminalized.

There are exceptions and stipulations for Missourians, however. Amendment 3 will NOT take effect until Dec. 8, according to The Kansas City Star. Certain areas of the state, such as Jackson County or Kansas City proper, have already made strides to decriminalize marijuana, but charges are still possible before next month. Individuals that have been charged for marijuana-related crimes will have their criminal record reviewed by the courts by June 8, 2023, with “less severe cases” being addressed first.

Individuals incarcerated for marijuana-related charges will be required to petition for release before their records can be expunged. Violent crimes or those involving distribution to minors will not be expunged and will still be treated as a felony under state law, distribution between minors being addressed with a $100 fine.