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Friday, October 24, 2014

Despite bills, Missouri still far from marijuana reform

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he would support marijuana legalization.

Feb. 22, 2013

Current Missouri law states people caught with less than 35 grams are subject to a misdemeanor penalty, a fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail. Possession of anything more than 35 grams is punishable from one year to life in prison and a fine ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

The sale, trafficking or distribution of marijuana results in a felony charge, time in prison and hefty fine. The possession of paraphernalia is also outlined as a misdemeanor in Missouri’s state laws.

That's harsher than some other states.

In California, the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana, anyone caught with 28.5 grams or less receives an infraction and a $100 fine. The sale or delivery of the illegal substance is classified as a felony and punishable by two to four years in jail.

There are currently 20 states, including California, who have legalized medicinal marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Recently, Missouri has tried to reform its own marijuana laws.

House Bill 512, introduced Feb. 7, would reform the statewide marijuana possession penalties to model the Columbia ordinance, and House Bill 511 would increase the surcharge from $100 to $500 on petitions for expungement of marijuana infractions from criminal records. Both bills, sponsored by Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, seek to lessen the impact of marijuana infractions on violators’ records.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is a co-sponsor for HB 511 and HB 512. He said he supports the bills not only to protect adolescents' records, but for people in general.

“I don’t see the benefit of continuing to charge people with possession,” Kelly said. “I can’t see an argument that we are doing any good in stopping the use. We are spending millions trying, and it doesn’t seem to be going well.”

Kelly said trying to curb the use of marijuana results in an unnecessary cost.

Though Colorado and Washington were the only two states to have recreational marijuana legalized, other states tried unsuccessfully to petition for similar ordinances on their state ballots such as Ohio and Arkansas.

Missouri petitioned a similar ordinance to legalize cannabis for individuals 21 or older to appear on the 2012 ballot. However, the Missouri Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Initiative did not receive the proper amount of signatures to be placed on the ballot last November.

Missouri is nowhere near close to legalizing marijuana, but with Ellinger’s two proposed bills, Missouri could see a step in reducing the penalty to marijuana possession penalties.

Kelly said he is for the legalization of marijuana, but he doesn’t see legalization in Missouri’s future.

“We have tried prohibition and it hasn’t been very successful,” Kelly said. “What we are doing now isn’t working well for a number of reasons.”

Kelly said he doesn’t know the answer to how to legalize the illegal substance.

“I’m not a fortune teller,” Kelly said. “The only thing I can do, the only way I change the law, is to be helpful. I don’t know whether we are going to be successful, and I’m pretty sure we won’t be.”

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