Efforts to place a marijuana legalization proposal on the November ballot in Missouri have been scuppered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Campaign group Missourians for a New Approach was trying to secure the required 170,000 signatures in time for the May 3 deadline. By the end of March, it had managed to attract just 60,000 due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Missouri has reported 4,895 cases of COVID-19 and 159 deaths so far. Gov. Mike Parson issued a three-week statewide stay-at-home order on April 3, and that prevented ballot gatherers from hitting the streets and whipping up support for the legalization measure.

The campaigners asked the state to permit online signature gathering under these extraordinary circumstances. “However, that has not proven to be an option, and there does not appear to be any other path to gathering the 170,000 valid signatures we would require prior to the deadline in early May,” said Dan Viets, coordinator for Missouri NORML and board chair for Missourians for a New Approach.

The campaign group said Missourians are ready to embrace legalization if they are given the opportunity to vote on it. Missourians for a New Approach will now set about gathering the necessary signatures to add a proposal to the November 2022 ballot instead.

Missouri became the 31st state to legalize medical marijuana in November 2018 after 65% of voters approved the measure. State legislation allows doctors to recommend cannabis for any condition.

It began issuing licenses for testing facilities, transportation facilities and cultivation facilities in December 2019, and then dispensary licenses were handed out at the start of 2020.

More than 300 cultivators, manufacturers and dispensaries were all awarded licenses shortly before the pandemic. However, the shelter in place order and general chaos caused by the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the launch of the industry.

This week the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services settled two appeals of medical marijuana facility application denials. DHSS will now issue one new testing facility license and swap a dispensary license, although it was keen to emphasize that these appeals did not relate to scoring issues.

DHSS previously reported that more than 22,000 patients have already qualified for the nascent medical marijuana program.

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