MOBERLY, Mo. — During a Show-Me Cannabis town hall meeting Tuesday night, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, expressed his support of the legalization of marijuana to the room of supporters, but did say he had some concerns he wants to wade through before he backs any legislative efforts.
The event Tuesday night in Moberly, Mo., garnered about 100 people of all ages who listened to Kelly, John Payne, Show-Me Cannabis Executive Director, St. Louis City Police Department Sgt. Gary Wiegert and criminal defense lawyer Dan Viets.
“In order to support the legalization of marijuana, you have to come to the conclusion that that’s a good idea,” Kelly says. “I’ve come to that conclusion. What led me there was my seven years as a judge in Columbia.”
During his time as a judge, Kelly says he heard “dozens and dozens” of domestic violence cases. Many of those cases, he points out, involved first responders being unable to arrive quickly because, “at the same time, police resources were devoted to the interdiction of marijuana.”
Kelly points out that supporting the legalization of marijuana does not mean he supports the legalization of other drugs — a comment that drew applause from the crowd. Additionally, he says supporting legalization does not mean condoning use of the substance.
Kelly says he has seen the so-called “war on drugs” occur during his entire adult life, and all of the money that is put toward the effort hasn’t necessarily yielded results regarding marijuana use.
“I don’t see we’ve stopped one single person from smoking one single joint with all of that money, which means we’ve wasted a whole lot of money,” he says.
The Show-Me Cannabis organization recently spoke during the House Downsizing State Government meetings chaired by Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific. During those meetings, the group members advocated for similar efforts.
Viet, who also is chairman of the Show-Me Cannabis board, points out that the preferred rhetoric for the effort in terms of legalization is “taxation and regulation.” The idea is if the government is going to tax and regulate cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana should fall under those same principles.
Kelly says he is still thinking about how he wants to proceed with the issue in the legislature, be it an effort through as a bill or as a ballot measure. If ballot measure, he says he hopes it can come through the legislature rather than through the petition-initiative process — something Kelly says he wishes all measures, not just this one, would follow.
“Initiative petitions are almost always written by one side of an argument, and therefore there’s no discipline,” he says. “They’re often written without any internal challenges. That’s why I think the legislative process is a better way to make law.”
Kelly says it’s important to him that he have some control over how the issue is presented, adding that the public perception is “very, very important.” The “who and how” the effort presents is particularly Kelly’s focus.
Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, has expressed similar interests in pursuing this type of legislation and says he plans to put something forward this coming session at least on the decriminalization front during this coming session, telling The Missouri Times earlier during the summer that he thinks that effort “will get farther than it did last year.”
Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.