Lawsuit on recreational pot in Missouri nears end

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawyers for a Missouri woman suing to block a recreational marijuana ballot measure panned the top state election official’s involvement and claimed the proposal is unconstitutionally broad during Thursday court arguments.

At issue is a proposal to allow those age 21 and older to buy and grow marijuana for personal consumption and automatically erase records of some past marijuana-related crimes.

In Missouri, proponents of constitutional amendment need to gather a certain number of signatures from registered voters to get initiatives on the ballot. Local election authorities typically check to make sure signees are registered voters and report signature counts to the Secretary of State’s Office.

This year the Secretary of State’s Office also reviewed signatures following complaints from the pro-recreational-marijuana campaign, Legal Missouri 2022, that some voters were wrongly discounted as unregistered by local authorities.

Attorneys for the plaintiff, Jefferson City woman Joy Sweeney, told Cole County Circuit Judge Cotton Walker that local election authorities are better trained and equipped to review signatures for accuracy. They said the Secretary of State’s Office should have trusted the local review and not interfered by double checking signatures and said the proposal should not go on the ballot.

Lawyers for the recreational marijuana campaign and the secretary of state said there’s no proof that the Secretary of State counted invalid signatures, so the measure should go to a public vote as planned.

Sweeney’s lawyers also said the measure deals with too many policies in violation of the state constitution.

Aside from legalizing recreational marijuana and expunging non-violent marijuana-related convictions, the proposed amendment includes policies to tax recreational marijuana.

Marc Ellinger, a Legal Missouri 2022 attorney, said the proposal only deals with one subject because all of the provisions, though sweeping, deal with marijuana.

Ellinger and the Secretary of State’s attorney asked the judge to toss the case completely, arguing that the case is meritless and that Sweeney does not have the right to sue because she’s not a Missouri resident.

Sweeney said she has a home in Jefferson City and is registered to vote in Missouri, although she also has a home in Alexandria, Virginia and testified remotely from there Thursday.

Walker said he plans to rule on whether the proposal will be on the Nov. 8 ballot shortly after attorneys file a final set of briefs Friday.