Missouri health officials are so convinced that voters will legalize weed this fall that they are already gearing up to draft adult-use cannabis regulations.

Last week, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft certified a petition to place an adult-use legalization question on this year’s election ballot. The initiative would allow adults to possess up to 3 ounces of pot and grow their own weed at home. If approved, it would also create a regulated adult-use sales market with a modest 6% excise tax, which would go to fund criminal expungement, veterans healthcare, and substance misuse programs.

According to a recent poll, a solid majority of Missourians are more than willing to say yes to pot. A recent SurveyUSA poll found that 62% of state voters said they support legalization, including 78% of Democrats and 47% of Republicans. Majority support was seen in every age group under 65, and even 49% of respondents who voted for Trump in 2020 said that they were down with legal weed.

In other conservative states, local politicians have made concentrated efforts to interfere with voter-approved legalization laws. But the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is already working to draw up cannabis regulations three months before voters will make their final decision. In a recent statement, the department explained that they are already taking steps to begin planning for the law’s eventual passage.

DHSS officials explained that they would need to “quickly make adjustments to the existing medical marijuana program and implement a new adult consumer program” if the law were to pass. “Because of this, the Department will begin planning now for these potential changes.” To help prepare, health officials have created an online submission form soliciting public input on how the new law should be implemented.

Most other adult-use states have waited until legalization laws went live before even convening a single meeting about weed. This procrastination has delayed adult-use market rollouts for years, and these long wait periods have, in turn, allowed black and gray markets to thrive. New York’s adult-use industry probably won’t open until this winter, about 18 months after pot became legal, and Virginia has put off its own legal weed rollout for three whole years

But in Arizona, regulators got a head start by developing a working relationship with industry stakeholders before the adult-use measure came up for a vote. This early effort allowed the state to bring its adult-use retail market online in a little over a year. And as a result, Arizona now has one of the fastest-growing cannabis industries in the entire country.

There is one major hurdle that could crush Missouri’s plans for legal weed, though. Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), an anti-drug group backed by national banks, Big Pharma, and the NFL, just filed a lawsuit to challenge the ballot measure. The suit alleges that the campaign did not actually turn in enough valid signatures and was erroneously approved by the state. 

Prohibitionist groups used similar tactics to overturn a voter-approved cannabis legalization measure in South Dakota last year, and are also trying to block legalization efforts in Arkansas and other states this year.

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