Throughout the past four decades, people across America have vigorously debated cannabis laws. According to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll published just last year, though they hold a variety of opinions on the subject, most Americans agree that it’s time to end prohibition. In the poll, 67 percent of respondents agreed the “War on Drugs has been a failure,” and 55 percent supported regulating cannabis like alcohol. As the poll numbers continue to show more supporters of a legal, regulated cannabis market every year, the activist coalition Show-Me Cannabis Regulation has been given approval by Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to collect signatures for a ballot initiative which would do just that.
So how did cannabis ever come to be banned in the first place? Historical records show prohibition was passed as the result of a racist fear campaign spearheaded by Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger said that cannabis “causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others,” and claimed if “you smoke a joint … you're likely to kill your brother.” After researching the origins of these policies, it’s plain to see these laws were passed based on misinformation and prejudice.
Today many people are starting to see the harm caused by these backward policies. Parents watch as their children are denied financial aid for college because of cannabis charges. Sick and dying people are prohibited from using a natural medicine that, for many Missouri patients, is quite literally keeping them alive. Taxpayers are seeing their money wasted on ineffective enforcement methods that perpetuate and sometimes further aggravate the cycles of drug addiction.
The proposal by Show-Me Cannabis Regulation to remove cannabis from the criminal market and regulate it like alcohol represents a solution based on common sense and logic. We have seen other states’ attempts at regulating cannabis, so we can learn from their mistakes. California’s loose medical cannabis laws and low qualification requirements — though a step in the right direction and a victory for many terminally ill Californians — stretched the definition of medical use of cannabis to an absurd length because the law has not established any legitimate means of access to non-medical users. Decriminalized states like Massachusetts have cut down on costly cannabis busts but still deny cannabis to patients who desperately need relief. Missourians are beginning to understand that the only way to solve the problem of prohibition is to repeal it completely.
The proposed law would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances and legalize possession for adults 21 years of age and older. Anyone incarcerated or on parole in Missouri for cannabis-only offenses would be released upon passage, and citizens would be able to expunge cannabis charges from their records. Patients would be allowed access to medical cannabis as directed by a licensed physician and — in the case of minors — with consent of a legal guardian. Doctors would be protected from loss of licensing for recommending cannabis to patients. Responsible business owners would be allowed to sell cannabis in licensed establishments, which in turn would create jobs, boost state revenue with taxes and licensing fees, establish a standard of product quality and end the costly and dangerous black-market trade. Perhaps most importantly, it would bar Missouri law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal cannabis laws that conflict with Missouri state law.
However, many aspects of Missouri’s cannabis laws would not change. Driving while impaired would remain illegal, as would non-medical sales to minors. Furthermore, the law would not prohibit property owners from banning cannabis sales on their property, nor stop employers from firing workers who show up for work impaired.
I find it appropriate that my state has the chance to lead the nation towards a more sensible cannabis policy. The Show-Me state has a long history as a swing state because we are a melting pot of political opinions. We stick up for state’s rights, having a general distrust of Washington politics. We are one of 24 states that allows its citizens to enact laws via ballot initiative. Missouri used to lead the nation in hemp production back when it was a legal crop, overtaking Kentucky as the number one hemp producer in 1860. Finally, as the home to our nation’s largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch, Missouri is a perfect testament to the historical failure of prohibition. This initiative gives Missourians the opportunity to correct that failure once again.