50 States

50 States: Missouri

By David Jenison

50 States: Missouri

Medical: No
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: For first-time offenders

October 12, 2018. For the upcoming midterms, the Missouri ballot will include three initiatives aimed at legalizing medical cannabis, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just threw its weight behind one of the proposals. The Editorial Board wrote, "Having dissected the three measures—Constitutional Amendments 2 and 3, and Proposition C—we recommend Amendment 2." 

The paper supports medical cannabis in general and says any of the measures would be an improvement, but it prefers Amendment 2 for its lower taxes, benefit to veterans and constitutional change that prevents state legislatures from "arrogantly reversing ballot propositions voters pass but that legislators don’t like." 

If both amendments pass, the one with the most votes becomes law. If Prop. C and either/both amendments pass, the outcome may head to the courts. The paper concluded, "Voters who don’t want to chance that none of the three measures passes could vote for all three. But for those more calculated about their support, we recommend Amendment 2."

What's Past Is Prologue

Cannabis is currently illegal in the Show-Me State, but conservative-leaning Missouri has lots of people pushing for reform. Show-Me Cannabis sought to get recreational on the November 2016 ballot, and New Approach Missouri fought for medical cannabis, but both efforts failed. The latter turned in enough signatures, but state bureaucrats invalidated hundreds of petition signatures, putting the proposed ballot initiative 23 votes below the required number. 

Advocates will try again in 2018 with the Missouri Cannabis Legalization Initiative and the Missouri Cannabis and Cannabis Hemp Legalization Initiative, both of which seek to legalize all cannabis. In the state legislature, bills to legalize medical cannabis and hemp production were introduced in 2017, though neither passed before the legislative session ended. Anheuser-Busch of Budweiser beer fame started in Missouri in the mid-19th century, and the great-great grandson of the founder, former CEO Adolphus Busch IV, apparently supports legalization. In September 2017, he surprised many by sending out letters urging people to help New Approach Missouri gather signatures to get its legalization initiative on the 2018 ballot. His letter stated that 68 percent of the state supports medical cannabis, though other polls suggest even higher support. 

In February 2015, the Kansas City Star hosted an online cannabis poll, and 94 percent voted in favor of recreational legalization. The non-scientific poll might not reflect the true support, but it does highlight the enthusiasm. A 2017 CBS poll, however, found that 61 percent of residents want to legalize all cannabis, and 88 percent support medical cannabis. In terms of an actual vote, nearly 75 percent of Kansas City voted in 2017 to reduce penalties for cannabis possession. 

Republican Dave Hinson introduced the Missouri Compassionate Care Act in February 2015, and while the medical cannabis bill was ridiculously restrictive, Hinson is the first Republican to introduce any such legislation in the state. This bill, and a second one introduced in 2016, were both voted down. He said, "I think it is time we extend the best care possible to Missourians and recognize the medical benefits of cannabis."

In recent years, the cannabis trajectory in Missouri has been positive, and the most notable example is Jeff Mizanskey. He spent more than two decades in prison based on three non-violent cannabis-related convictions, which earned him a sentence of life without the possibility for parole. For the sake of comparison, even Mark Chapman can (and does) petition for parole, which suggests cannabis is a worse offense than murdering John Lennon. Fortunately, after much public pressure, Governor Jay Nixon commuted Mizanskey’s sentence in May 2015, so he could at least petition the parole board for early release. The hearing took place on August 6, 2015, the board granted parole, and Mizanskey came home a few weeks later.

In 2014, the General Assembly eliminated jail time for first-time cannabis offenders with less than 10 grams, though it did not take effect until 2017. Another law removed restrictions on patients with severe epilepsy from using CBD oil treatments. In June 2015, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt voted in favor of the Mikulski amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The amendment, which mirrors the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in the House, bans the Department of Justice from interfering in legal state medical cannabis programs. Both amendments passed with bipartisan support.

Progress, of course, is not a solution, and prohibition still ruins countless lives in Missouri. Nearly 18,000 people were arrested in 2012 merely for cannabis possession, and possession of more than 35 grams (i.e., about 1.25 ounces) can land a $10,000 fine and seven years in prison. Likewise, selling as little as a joint can result in four years behind bars. 

Change cannot happen soon enough. 

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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