Marijuana reform activists in Missouri have ended their campaign to put a cannabis legalization question on the November ballot as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since social distancing measures were introduced in the state last month, the campaigners said there was “no practical way” to gather the required number of signatures to put the question to voters. The group behind the proposed reform measure, Missourians for a New Approach, attempted to work with other campaigns focused on different issues to push for new approaches, such as electronic signature collection. In the end though, the group conceded there was no viable path forward for now and are instead looking to refocus their efforts on the next election cycle.

“It was always a long shot, especially in Missouri, but we believed in the importance of exploring every avenue, given the strong support in the state for cannabis legalization,” wrote Graham Boyd, director of the national New Approach PAC – a major funder of the Missouri campaign – in an email to supporters.

“New Approach PAC covered the cost of all the legal work exploring the e-signature alternative in Missouri, but now with less than four weeks left before the constitutionally mandated deadline, we’re simply out of time and options,” he said.

“The 2020 cannabis legalization campaign in Missouri cannot continue.”

The group asked lawmakers to push back the May 3 deadline to hand in 160,199 signatures of registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot, given the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak, but state lawmakers rejected this proposal. With the group having collected only half of the required signatures to date and with little possibility to add to the number, they were left with no option but to end their push for this year.

The group’s proposed ballot measure would have asked Missouri voters to decide whether the state should allow adults 21 and older to possess and buy cannabis from licensed retailers, and grow up to three plants of their own. Marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent tax, with these revenues earmarked for veteran support services, substance misuse programs, and infrastructure projects. The proposed measure would also establish a framework to allow for expungement and resentencing of marijuana-related convictions.

“We’ve seen tremendous excitement from across the state for ending the prohibition of adult-use marijuana,” said John Payne, campaign manager for Missourians for a New Approach. “Missourians support taxing and regulating marijuana in order to give law enforcement additional resources to focus on serious crime. Eleven other states, including our neighbors in Illinois, are currently reaping the tax revenue from regulated marijuana that we know would be so beneficial to the Show-Me-State.”

“Unfortunately, while there is widespread support from Missourians to tax and regulate marijuana, there is currently no practical way during the COVID-19 outbreak to safely gather the 170,000 plus signatures needed over the remaining four weeks to put our initiative on the Missouri ballot in 2020,” he added.

“We know Missourians want this and our supporters from every corner of this state will be back next cycle to put this on the 2022 ballot and finally bring Missouri the benefits of a safe and regulated adult-use marijuana program.”

The last election cycle saw Missouri voters approve medical marijuana legalization, but patients are still waiting for the first dispensaries to open amid complaints over the license-issuing process.

Missouri now joins a growing list of states which have had marijuana reform efforts curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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