MO Highway Patrol tells legal pot group to stop using footage

Missouri State Highway Patrol logo.

Missouri State Highway Patrol logo.

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The Missouri State Highway Patrol has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the primary group advocating for legal recreational marijuana in the state after it used video footage featuring a state trooper in a campaign ad.

Legal Missouri 2022, the primary group advocating for Amendment 3 to legalize recreational marijuana sales, released an ad on Tuesday that includes video of a uniformed person who appears to be a Missouri trooper riding a motorcycle and also getting in and out of a vehicle.

“The Patrol is aware of Legal Missouri 2022’s advertisement featuring the Patrol. The Patrol did not give its permission for its emblem, name, or images to be used nor was permission sought,” the Highway Patrol said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Highway Patrol Capt. John Hotz told The Star on Thursday that the agency had sent a cease-and-desist order. The Star obtained a copy of the letter Friday.

Highway Patrol legal counsel Kayla Kemp writes in the letter that the agency’s registration of its emblem as a service mark “prohibits anyone other than the owner of the service mark from using the mark without the Patrol’s consent.”

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The Missouri State Highway Patrol sent a cease-and-desist letter to Legal Missouri 2022.

“As the use of any images featuring the Patrol’s emblem is unauthorized and a violation of state law, Legal Missouri 2022 needs to immediately cease and desist its use of the Patrol’s name and emblem in its advertising or any other publication,” Kemp writes.

The letter, dated Oct. 19, contains no threat of legal action by the Highway Patrol. The agency would almost certainly run into significant First Amendment obstacles in any lawsuit over Legal Missouri’s campaign speech.

The request is an extraordinary demand by a government agency to stop the speech of a political campaign.

The ad, which has 15-second and 30-second versions, argues Amendment 3 will aid law enforcement. In the ad, the words “SUPPORT THE POLICE” appear on screen as a trooper rides on a motorcycle and a narrator calls the amendment “a vote to let the police focus on serious crimes.”

Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager John Payne said in an email Thursday that his group has yet to receive the letter, but he also said the Highway Patrol had no grounds to demand a stop to the use of the footage.

“We haven’t received any such document, but this footage is available to be licensed, and we did that, which is our right,” Payne said Thursday evening.

The ad was voiced by the actor John Doman, who played the politically savvy Baltimore police deputy commissioner William Rawls in HBO’s “The Wire,” a show which explored the drawbacks of police drug enforcement among other issues.

“The stock footage in our ad shows exactly why Amendment 3 will allow law enforcement to focus on fighting violent and serious crime,” Payne said in an email Thursday morning.

The ad also says the proposal will generate funding for veterans’ health care and clear non-violent marijuana offenses from criminal records. Missouri will vote on Amendment 3 during the Nov. 8 elections.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who oversees the Highway Patrol as part of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, has been highly critical of the legalization effort. He has called the proposal a “disaster,” echoing criticism that the amendment is overly complicated.

Chuck Hatfield, a Jefferson City-based attorney, said cease-and-desist letters — while they can sound threatening — don’t actually require action by the recipient.

“Cease and desist letters, even more traditional ones, almost never work. It’s a common thing that is done in campaigns. It’s usually candidates sending them to each other. This is a little unusual,” Hatfield said.

Hatfield said the service mark law isn’t meant for “using a mark in a First Amendment context like this.” The Highway Patrol would likely have a stronger argument if its emblem was being used to sell merchandise.

By sending a letter, the Highway Patrol “probably wanted to make clear to you and others that they’re really, really ticked off,” Hatfield said.

The ad comes after the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys warned earlier this month the measure would make it harder to prosecute people for driving under the influence of marijuana. They also said drug dealers under the age of 21 would only be subject to a civil penalty for giving or selling marijuana to kids.

Legalization advocates and supporters of the amendment say those concerns are overblown. They contend prosecutors read the amendment incorrectly and that a person who sells marijuana to children would still be subject to a felony under state law. After being pressed by The Star, the prosecutors acknowledged that the part of their statement about selling to kids only being a civil penalty was an error. Still, they argued that marijuana legalization would be a threat to community safety.

The prosecutors also blasted the amendment for allowing a marijuana dealer to “give or sell to middle schoolers and face only a ‘civil penalty’ of $100.” The group later said the part of the statement that said “sell” was an error.

A mid-September survey by Emerson College Polling and The Hill found 48% of voters support the amendment, with 35% opposed and 17% elements. Another mid-September poll conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of Missouri TV stations found that 62% of voters support it, 22% oppose it and 16% weren’t certain.

The Star’s Kacen Bayless contributed reporting.

This story has been updated to include information from the cease and desist letter.

This story was originally published October 20, 2022 4:34 PM.

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Jonathan Shorman is The Kansas City Star’s lead political reporter, covering Kansas and Missouri politics and government. He previously covered the Kansas Statehouse for The Star and Wichita Eagle. He holds a journalism degree from The University of Kansas.

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