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With marijuana legal in Missouri, mayor says Kansas City should not expect a 'giant weed smoking area'

Signage encouraging the passing of Amendment 3, which would legalize recreational marijuana, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at the Board of Aldermen presidential-hopeful Megan Green’s campaign headquarters in the Central West End.
File photo by Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Signage encouraging the passing of Amendment 3 in Missouri.

Kansas Citians can expect to begin purchasing recreational marijuana in early February. Now the city is working to pass an additional sales tax on cannabis products and prevent any “red light district” for weed from cropping up.

Missourians can expect to have access to recreational marijuana as soon as February.

After voters' approval on Tuesday of Amendment 3, allowing anyone over the age of 21 to purchase marijuana products, Missouri's Department of Health and Senior Services will begin to transition business licenses on Dec. 8. Businesses already licensed to dispense medical marijuana will be transitioned to recreational license holders.

In River Bend, a town just north of Independence, developers were quick to announce plans for a new entertainment district that would allow open use of marijuana. The district will include wedding venues, an amphitheater, restaurants and clubs.

Similar developments are unlikely in Kansas City, said Mayor Quinton Lucas.

“To me the biggest deal is how do you make sure you're not actually creating things that are akin to a red light district,” Lucas told KCUR.

Instead, Lucas said, he sees Kansas City adopting a “cigar shop” mentality — where individual venues and shops decide their own individual use policies. Lucas said he wants to prevent development that would create “full marijuana areas over regions of the city.”

“You're not going to see a dramatic change from the current entertainment districts you have now, from them having their own rules for these sorts of issues,” Lucas said. “I don't expect us having, let's say a Power and Light District-size giant weed smoking area.”

Under Amendment 3, public use of marijuana will still be prohibited statewide. Driving while under the influence will be illegal, as will selling cannabis to someone under 21.

While consumption of marijuana in public spaces is punishable by a fine, enforcement is largely left to the discretion of cities and local law enforcement agencies. The Kansas City Council voted to stop prosecuting marijuana possession at a municipal level in 2020.

Lucas said Kansas Citians won’t see many enforcement changes.

“One of the key steps for us in Kansas City is making sure that we set up our own regulatory apparatus for how you make sure that shops are distributing or following all the right rules,” Lucas said. “Certainly conversations with the Kansas City Police Department in terms of what enforcement looks like. Now, fortunately, in Kansas City, we've decriminalized marijuana for a good amount of time, and that was a few years ago.”

The amendment includes an automatic 6% state tax, which will go primarily into the Missouri Veterans’ Health and Care Fund. It also includes the option for cities to leverage up to 3% of additional sales tax with voter approval.

Kansas City voters will be asked to approve that additional tax on April 4, after the Kansas City Council on Thursday approved an ordinance to put the question on the municipal general election ballot. If approved, revenue from the tax would go towards marijuana and alcohol regulation, code enforcement and “neighborhood quality of life.”

“In Kansas City, we're looking to earmark it for neighborhood issues,” Lucas said. “Making sure we address neighborhood concerns like code enforcement and importantly trash pickup and illegal dumping. Something that's hitting a lot of neighborhoods of Kansas City. And it is traditionally underfunded by City Hall.”

With the tax money, the city hopes to expand the Regulated Industries Division, which also manages alcohol and adult entertainment businesses, among others. Lucas said much of the early years of the tax revenue would likely go towards funding that department.

“We do want to make sure that where there will be a new volume of enforcement actions coming that Kansas City government is on top of,” Lucas said. “You don't want some new huge type of thing that's being produced, has a high volume, and then us having, like, one regulator that’s overworked citywide.”

Kansas City will also lobby Kansas to change its marijuana laws to prevent people from incurring penalties while crossing state lines with marijuana they bought in Missouri.

“We all traverse the state line — many each day,” Lucas said. “I don’t want Kansas Citians arrested in Kansas for any of these types of possession offenses,” he said. “And frankly, I don’t want Kansans getting wrapped up in that either.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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