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What you should know about medical marijuana in Missouri: How to get a card, what are the qualifiers and more.

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Dan Viets, Columbia-based chairman of the committee backing a push to get recreational marijuana for adults onto the Missouri November 2020 ballot, said late Wednesday that the petition initiative campaign has officially ended.

The culprit? Public response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Viets said. They just can’t get out and about to gather signatures in public.

Stay-at-home orders and physical distancing practices have made “petitioning very difficult,” Viets said in a prepared statement. The campaign needed to gather 170,000 valid signatures needed by the deadline in early May.

Viets said campaigners had tried “to persuade the state of Missouri to allow online signature gathering under the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in this spring,” to no avail.

Missourians for a New Approach, the committee backing the petition for “adult use and cultivation,” or recreational marijuana, wants to resume the campaign next year in hopes of getting on the November 2022 ballot.

“We will succeed in the very near future in legalizing adult use and cultivation of marijuana here in Missouri and across the nation!” Viets said.

Reaction to the news from the general public and pro-cannabis community members is likely to be mixed. Many grass-roots activists who generally support adult use cannabis laws have expressed skepticism toward Missourians for a New Approach.

Josh Loftis, a Springfield man who owns a consultancy for legal Missouri patients who want to grow their own marijuana under the existing medical marijuana law, told the News-Leader he hopes a delay in campaigning for an adult use law will prompt people to learn more about the topic.

“It was a poor bill written for business interests and not consumers,” Loftis told the News-Leader in a text message Wednesday. “I hope this gives citizens time to study the issue more to be better prepared for the next push for adult use legislation. I am absolutely certain that there will be better language (a better bill) than New Approach’s in circulation, at that time.”

Cindy Northcutt, a cannabis attorney and activist based in Springfield, told the News-Leader that she understands frustration and disappointment when a signature-gathering effort fails: It’s a lot of work.

“That said,” she told the News-Leader in an email, “I believe that ultimately, giving Missouri a little time to get the medical cannabis program up and running smoothly before opening the market to adult-use sales will benefit both patients and the program overall. The delay also allows for an adult-use program to be built that more clearly addresses expungement and perhaps some of the other social issues that have arisen as a result of the ‘growing pains’ inherent in this new industry.”

Jack Cardetti, a spokesperson for the Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, or MoCannTrade, referred questions to John Payne, New Approach campaign manager. 

Payne sent a prepared statement praising “tremendous excitement from across the state for ending the prohibition on adult-use marijuana.”

He said recreational marijuana reform would allow for new tax revenue and would let law enforcement focus on violent crime. But he said “there is currently no practical way during the COVID-19 outbreak to safely, publicly gather” enough signatures.

Like Viets, the New Approach chairman, Payne predicted the campaign would return in 2022.

Marijuana lobbying also canceled

Missouri’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is also canceling its annual Jefferson City lobby day, Viets said, because the Missouri legislature is not in session.

Missouri NORML wants to work on issues including telehealth appointments for medical cannabis patients and anti-discrimination measures for patients who are parents or employees, Viets said.

The group hopes to go forward with its fall conference at the University of Missouri-Columbia set for Oct. 10, he said.

Missouri voters adopted medical marijuana with Amendment 2, a November 2018 ballot initiative, as cannabis laws are increasingly common throughout the United States.

Since Missouri health authorities began allowing patients to apply for medical marijuana ID cards, about 42,000 people have been approved, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

State-licensed cannabis businesses like retail dispensaries, commercial cultivation and testing sites; and infused-product manufacturing facilities are currently in various stages of development, but are not yet open for business.

Nearby states including Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois have varying types of legal cannabis laws. Illinois began allowing recreational sales Jan. 1.

Gregory Holman is the investigative reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to gholman@gannett.com and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing. Learn more by visiting News-Leader.com/subscribe.

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