Marijuana could become legal in Missouri, contingent upon two initiatives to put legalization on the ballot in November.
The measure, sponsored by Show-Me Cannabis, would legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana for adults over 21. It would also allow for commercial distribution, both for medicinal and non-medicinal purposes.
Columbia attorney Dan Viets, the Missouri coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he doesn’t see weed popping up on every street corner.
“If people are allowed to grow their own and share with their friends just like people grow their tomatoes and share, then we really don’t need marijuana retail stores,” Viets said.
Under federal law, marijuana would still be illegal. Despite the legalization of medicinal marijuana in many states, the Drug Enforcement Administration hasn’t shied away from raiding medical dispensaries.
Authorities raided a state-legal medical growing operation inside a Detroit warehouse Saturday, according to the Detroit Free Press. Viets said by emphasizing individual cultivation, the conflicts between state and federal laws can be avoided.
“They wouldn’t attempt to go after individual consumers,” Viets said. “They don’t have anything approaching the resources to do that."
If passed, Missouri law enforcement personnel or state funds could not be used to enforce the federal laws.
“As a law enforcement officer, I have no opinion (on the initiative),” MU Police Department Capt. Brian Weimer said. “Our job is to enforce the laws that are set forward by the legislature.”
A clause in the initiative also calls for the release of all people incarcerated under non-violent, cannabis-only charges and expungement of any records pertaining to the crimes.
Viets kept other states in mind when choosing the timing for the initiative. California Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana fully, was defeated in 2010, a non-presidential election year. According to the Federal Election Commission, 56.8 percent of the voting age population turned out in 2008. In 2010, the turnout dipped to 37.8 percent.
“The experience has been, not only with this issue but with many (others), you will get far more of the voters that support this in a presidential election,” Viets said. “I wish they had waited in California.”
Many other states are seeking to get marijuana on this year’s ballot as well. Colorado, Michigan, Montana and Washington have activists seeking signatures for similar initiatives. Colorado fell 3,000 signatures short last week but was given 15 more days to collect the rest necessary, according to an article in TIME Magazine.
The initiative can make its way to Missouri’s November ballot by either an initiated constitution amendment or an initiated state statute. The difference lies in the state legislature’s ability to override the new law, if passed.
A statute can be overturned by state legislature, despite being voted in by the people. If an amendment is made to Missouri’s constitution, it cannot be overturned.
“We have no doubt they would undo marijuana legalization in a heartbeat,” Viets said. “It made no sense to do anything other than pursue a constitutional amendment.”
The trade-off is an initiated amendment that requires approximately 150,000 signatures, which is roughly 50,000 more than required for a statute. All necessary signatures are due May 6. So far, more than 15,000 have been collected.
To aid the initiative, support can sign up online to become a petitioner. Show-mecannabis.com just added an online training program that will allow any United States resident of voting age to collect signatures. Valid signatures can only be collected by those certified. Previously, classes were only available in person.
The Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has provided additional support by unanimously voting to endorse the measure. Lawyers across the state, including Viets, could lose many clients if marijuana is legalized. The board took the same stance as Viets, who stressed the importance of improving society rather than lining their pockets.
“If we were to oppose marijuana legalization on the grounds that we would lose our case load, it would be like a doctor saying ‘I don’t want to cure cancer because I’ll have fewer patients,’” he said.