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Gov. Mike Parson won’t mass pardon state marijuana charges, but Missouri voters could

 A proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Missouri appears unlikely to make the ballot because of insufficient signatures.
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
A proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Missouri appears unlikely to make the ballot because of insufficient signatures.

Under Amendment 3, known as Legal Missouri 2022, some state marijuana offenses could be expunged either automatically or through an appeal process. However, critics of the amendment say the provisions pick and choose who are forgiven.

While Gov. Mike Parson’s office says he does not intend to issue a mass pardon for state marijuana offenses, Missouri voters could pardon some offenses themselves by approving a constitutional amendment in November.

Amendment 3, known as Legal Missouri 2022, would legalize marijuana in the state for those 21 and older. In addition to legalization, it contains new parameters for the marijuana industry in Missouri as well as provisions expunging offenses either automatically or through an appeals process.

According to the amendment language, those currently on probation or parole for certain marijuana violations would see their sentence automatically vacated and later expunged from their record.

Additionally, anyone currently incarcerated for certain marijuana offenses would be able to petition the court to vacate the sentence, gain immediate release and expunge their records.

Some offenses, such as violent ones, distributing marijuana to a minor or operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana would not be eligible. The amendment also gives a timeline for when the different expungement processes must be completed.

John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 2022, said that while the state already has an expungement process, it’s costly and time consuming.

“The hundreds of thousands of people that are eligible for it, there's only a few thousand that have actually done it. And so, by automating that process, we're going to be able to get those expungements done much quicker and much more efficiently,” Payne said.

However, Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, D-Kansas City, who is against Amendment 3, said that the amendment picks and chooses whose charges get expunged and that for those currently serving time, the appeal process won’t be universal.

“If you're serving right now, you have to still appeal to the court. And it's based off of judicial discretion, which we know does not work out for poor and melanated peoples,” Bland Manlove said.

President Joe Biden’s recently announced plan to pardon federal low-level marijuana charges has caused some lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, to call on governors to do the same with state charges.

“We also know that the vast majority of simple marijuana possession convictions happen at the state level, therefore, we echo the President’s call for governors to follow suit,” Bush said in a joint statement with New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat.

Parson instead is likely to continue considering pardons on a case-by-case basis.

According to Payne, Parson would not be able to undo any of the expungement processes outlined in Amendment 3 through a veto. But he said Parson still would be able to pardon marijuana offenses not outlined in the amendment.

“He retains that power for anything else,” Payne said.

Even if Parson were to mass pardon marijuana offenses, Bland Manlove said that would not change the criminal statute or offer repair for those who were incarcerated.

“The governor could act upon it, but then that wouldn't stop everything that's going on. And the problem with putting this in our constitution is that legislators cannot go back and fix it,” Bland Manlove said.

Payne said Amendment 3 does not block the Missouri legislature from taking further action and passing marijuana-related legislation.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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