Posted By Danny Wicentowski
The lobbying firm best-known for its work on behalf of St. Louis mega-donor Rex Sinquefield is putting its formidable weight behind a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Missouri. Its efforts join an increasingly well-funded crowd of ballot measures trying to accomplish the same thing.
Known as the Missouri Patient Care Act, the ballot initiative pushed by Pelopidas LLC will ask voters to create new state law to license and regulate medical marijuana through the state’s division of liquor and alcohol control.
The proposal has key differences with other efforts to legalize medical pot, notes Travis Brown, a lobbyist with the firm.
Specifically, Brown points to the 2016 failure of New Approach Missouri’s campaign, which sought to amend the state’s constitution and utilized both volunteer and professional signature-gatherers. New Approach missed its signature goal by as few as several dozen signatures; although the activists went to court to argue that hundreds of valid signatures were improperly disqualified, a judge ultimately ruled against them.
“The Missouri Patient Care Act is really a product of that failure,” says Brown of his firm’s new effort.
And it may well draw from a different set of donors than the libertarian/pro-marijuana activists who’ve previously supported efforts to loosen cannabis laws in Missouri. Most of Pelopidas’ work — such as advocating the privatization of St. Louis’ airport — is tied to Sinquefield, a wildly generous philanthropist who believes in free markets (and often advances Republican agendas).
Last week, First Rule, the media arm of Pelopidas, donated $33,000 to the Patient Care Act campaign. According to Brown, First Rule is acting as the campaign’s “signature collections leader,” and it has contracted National Petition Management to do the actual groundwork. Brown stresses that the collection campaign is utilizing only professional collectors — no volunteers — to gather the roughly 100,000 valid signatures needed to make the ballot as a statutory initiative.
By comparison, New Approach is again seeking to amend the state’s constitution this November. A constitutional amendment requires a higher signature count to make the ballot, around 160,000; as it did in 2016, New Approach is using a combination of professional and volunteer collectors to hit their goals.
Those differences, Brown says, work in the Patient Care Act’s advantage. Not only is there a lower bar to make the ballot, but a state statute passed by ballot initiative could be adjusted later by the legislature to refine and fine-tune implementation. Changing a constitutional amendment would likely take another ballot initiative.
Some might worry that state legislators would be more likely to gut the will of the people than to help achieve it. But Brown argues that the Patient Care Act’s proposal to slot marijuana regulation into the existing state framework used for liquor licenses is the most effective way to get medical pot into the hands of patients.
“We’re trying to provide the best statute that has flexibility to property regulate the industry,” says Brown. “When you have constitutional mandates, when you create new bureaucracies that no one has run or governed before, that always takes extra time and has the effect of slowing down access to medical treatment.”
The Patient Care Act also stands out for the comparatively low tax it’s proposing on medical pot: It would mandate a rate of two percent, as compared to New Approach’s proposed four percent. A third ballot initiative, known as the Bradshaw Amendment, would create a new state-run marijuana research institute and tax medical pot at a sky-high rate of fifteen percent.
Still, if New Approach’s costly 2016 failure wasn’t reminder enough, it shouldn’t be forgotten that signature campaigns are wildly expensive. So far, Brown says the Patient Care Act has raised $250,000.
That places the campaign far behind New Approach, which has reportedly raised more than $1 million, and the $800,000 raised by the campaign supporting the Bradshaw Amendment — though those funds have mostly come in the form of loans from physician Brad Bradshaw.
According to the Patient Care Act’s most recent campaign filings, it received two major contributions in December totaling $117,000 — both from Missourians for Patient Care, a committee that doesn’t have to disclose its donors. Brown declined to name the source for the campaign’s self-funding.
Is Rex Sinquefield himself putting his millions to work for medical marijuana? Two years ago, the deep-pocketed financier’s son Luke Sinquefield, who lives in California, gave $40,000 to New Approach’s failed effort. Is father perhaps following son into a cause that’s truly allied with economic freedom — the freedom to medicate?
Brown says no, but his answer doesn’t close the door to future donations. “Not as of today,” he tells us by email. “But that may change.”