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Petition Circulates To Legalize Marijuana In Missouri

Amendment to state constitution targets November 2012 ballot

Andrew Israel
November 30, 2011
A petition now circulating in Missouri would place a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot to legalize marijuana for those 21 or older.

The "Show-Me Cannabis Initiative" calls for a sweeping repeal of criminal prohibitions against marijuana in Missouri.

The measure would regulate cannabis in many of the same ways the state now regulates alcohol. Marijuana would be legal and could be sold by licensed vendors or grown at home for personal use. Medical cannabis would be made available to those with a physician's recommendation, including those under 21 with parental consent and physician supervision. Retail sales would be taxed by the state (up to $100 per pound).

The petition, approved Nov. 7 for circulation by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, goes further in requiring the release of those incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses, and would expunge all records related to such offenses.

The measure would also allow for the cultivation of low-potency (non-smokable) hemp, allowing for the return of a hemp industry that flourished in this country up until World War II.

The petition was submitted by Columbia attorney Dan Viets. Viets is Missouri state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and a long-time advocate for drug law reform in both Missouri and on the federal level.

"We are now closer than we've ever been to repealing the criminal prohibition of marijuana," Viets said.

Prevailing attitudes about the legalization of marijuana are changing, and changing rather dramatically, according to Viets. He points to a recent Gallup poll that shows, for the first time in this country's history, that a majority of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana — 50 percent agreeing with legalization to 46 percent opposed. Some of the strongest support comes from the Midwest.

Just five years ago Gallup reported that 60 percent of U.S. citizens opposed the legalization of marijuana, with only 36 percent in support.

"The greatest support is still among the youngest groups, with the lowest level of support coming from among the older folks. The simple fact of the situation is that demographics are changing. Dramatic increases in support will continue in the years to come," Viets said.

Signatures on initiative petitions, about 150,000 are needed, are due to the Secretary of State's office by May 6, 2012.

Sixteen states have already legalized marijuana for medical use, and 14 states have decriminalized marijuana for personal use. In addition to Missouri, five other states are at some stage of considering similar actions.

"We are squandering massive amounts of tax money on police, and on prosecution and prison for people who don't need to be treated like criminals," Viets said.

Even if the required number of signatures are collected, and voters approve the measure come November, a federal prohibition against marijuana would still be in place. Viets concedes that retail marijuana sales in Missouri could be subject to federal prosecution since the federal government collects taxes on retail sales.

He predicts, however, that the federal government will do little to stop marijuana reform laws at the state level.

"We don't have to sign on to the federal government's prohibition against marijuana. If the federal government wants to march in and round up marijuana smokers, they could, but they won't," Viets said.

Viets also predicts that the Missouri Legislature will not be on board should marijuana be legalized. Lawmakers, however, cannot pass legislation repealing a constitutional amendment.

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