JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Show-Me Cannabis has filed an initiative petition to amend the Missouri Constitution to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis. The petition was filed with the Missouri Secretary of State for the 2016 election cycle.
The petition was the first one received for the new cycle, being submitted the day after November 4 midterm elections.
The petition language reads that it would legalize and regulate cannabis for adults over 21, in addition to allowing the distribution of medical cannabis with the recommendation of a physician.
Show-Me Cannabis is an association of organizations, groups and individuals focused on policy reform for marijuana in Missouri. Their goal is to create an effective and comprehensive system for legal production, distribution and consumption for the state – while also combating the substantial criminalization of drug use in Missouri.
For the petition to make the ballot, Show-Me Cannabis and fellow drug policy reform organization and individuals will need to gather 165,000 signatures from residents in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Show-Me Cannabis has expressed that they are still open to receiving feedback on the petition draft.
The secretary of state will take approximately four to eight weeks to have the ballot title and language approved by the attorney general, and for the auditor to assess the financial implications that would be associated with the approval of petition. After the proposed petition is approved, it will be posted on the secretary of state’s website for a minimum thirty day public comment period.
A report from the Department of Public Safety reported that in 2013, eight of Missouri’s 27 drug task forces spent a disproportionate amount of time and resources on marijuana-related cases rather than other high risk drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
The issue is being talked about across the state, as the petition begins to gain its course of review in the Capitol. On October 20th, the Columbia City Council discussed, debated and ultimately rejected an ordinance that would decriminalize the cultivation of certain types of cannabis in the city.
Earlier this year, Rep. Galen Higdon (R-St. Joseph) sponsored House Bill 2054, headed by Representative Mike Colona (R-St. Louis), stating that would make it legal for any person with no background of felony offense of drug-related misdemeanor to grow and cultivate industrial hemp. The bill was not made into law.
“Hemp is the first step toward us bringing a new cash crop to the state of Missouri,” Galen said.
Rep. Higdon says if Rep. Colona elects to generate another bill that would favor the legalization of commercial hemp production and potential medical marijuana distribution, he would eagerly co-sponsor. Rep. Higdon, a former deputy in Buchanan County Sheriff’s department, feels a full legalization and decriminalization of the substance would not be in best interest of the state.
“It’s just like the alcohol prohibition, more people consumed it more readily and more people became intoxicated in public instead of being privately at home, and people get in their car and drive down the road,” Higdon said. “I think if you repeal the prohibition on cannabis there the danger of people driving impaired – it’s going to make it more flexible for users to use and drive.”
The economic benefits of the policy reform for cannabis, says Show-Me Cannabis, could results in tens of millions in new tax revenues that would be poured right back into the communities and municipalities. The money, according to Show-Me Cannabis, would be allocated for enforcement and firefighter pensions, substance abuse programs and underage drug use prevention, elementary, secondary, and higher education programs, veterans’ services, and the enforcement of cannabis regulations.
As the petition is considered by the Secretary of State, Higdon says the people from his district have been showing a mixture of views about whether the substance should be granted legalization, and to what degree.
“I am leaning toward getting more information for the medical, and I am willing to listen to my district on this issue,” Higdon said. “If 51% of my district says no, I will vote no regardless of what I think.”
If the petition and subsequent ballot measure were approved, Missouri would join Colorado and Washington in permitting people 21 and older to legally produce and consume marijuana.
Colorado and Washington state voters passed a ballot measure in 2012 legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. Show-Me Cannabis’ Director of Research Aaron Malin said this past November, voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved a ballot measure that legalizes production, retail sale and distribution and consumption of cannabis.
“Colorado is the only state that has fully embraced the legalization, and there haven’t been increases in use or underage use that we’ve heard might eventually happen,” Malin said.
Malin and Show-Me Cannabis continue to push the idea that the decriminalization would generate greater social justice across the state, and provide safer and more just regulation for those who suffer from substance dependence and abuse. Show-Me Cannabis has spoken with constituents from across the state, and many demographics can find something to gain from some degree of legalization of the substance, such as a cash crop in commercial hemp or a more comfortable amount of marijuana regulation for the conservatives in the state.
“We’ve had town hall meetings all across the state and an extremely warm reactions in places where we wouldn’t have gotten one,” Malin said. “The infrastructure of the war on drugs is crumbling in Missouri.”
Kelsey Wingo is the multimedia reporter for The Missouri Times, and a senior at the University of Missouri. She will be graduating in Spring 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Readers can contact Kelsey by calling her cell phone at 417-343-0508 or via Twitter @kels_wingo.