After marijuana vote, Missouri House passes bill to make it harder to change constitution

The Missouri House Thursday passed legislation that would make it harder for voters across the state to approve amendments to the state constitution.

The bill, which passed 108-50, would increase the number of votes required for a constitutional amendment to pass on the ballot — from a simple majority of more than 50% of those who voted to 60%. If the proposed legislation had been in place in November, recreational marijuana — which received 53.1% of the vote — would have failed.

“Marijuana would still be illegal in this state, would still be fully criminalized in this state, if not for the ballot initiative that allowed less than 60% to pass,” state Rep. Peter Merideth, a St. Louis Democrat said on the floor Thursday.

The bill now heads to the upper chamber. If both chambers pass it, voters would still need to approve it through a statewide vote in the November 2024 election.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Henderson, a Bonne Terre Republican, is the first of an onslaught of GOP-led bills filed this year that would raise the threshold for voters to pass citizen-led ballot measures. It comes in the wake of Missouri voters approving several liberal-leaning policies through changes to the constitution — a significant portion of which would not have passed under the proposed legislation.

Since 2018, ballot initiatives in Missouri have led voters to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, overturn a right-to-work law — which would have prevented unions from requiring employees to pay union dues — and expand eligibility for Medicaid.

“I believe that the Missouri Constitution is a living document, but not an ever-expanding document,” Henderson said on the floor Wednesday, echoing a familiar refrain among Missouri Republicans. Proponents of the bill have argued that the constitution has been too easy to change.

Democrats and defenders of the current process, called initiative petition, framed the legislation as an attack on democracy and a power grab by state legislators. They say it takes away voters’ ability to directly participate in the democratic process.

“The Initiative Petition is already a difficult and complicated process. Missourians resort to it only when they feel their voice isn’t being heard at the Capitol,” Marilyn McLeod, President of the League of Women Voters of Missouri said in a statement. “The League is opposed to any efforts by the General Assembly to make this process even more difficult.”

Meredith, on the floor Thursday, rattled off a list of the citizen-led policies that would not have passed in Missouri under the proposed legislation. He said Republican lawmakers were trying to attack the will of voters.

While Republicans say it’s been too easy to change the state constitution, data provided to The Star shows that voters have approved only 40.6% of the 69 citizen-driven initiative petitions placed on the ballot between 1910 and 2022.