Mo: Group works on initiatives for legal pot

mapinc / 7/8/2011 / By Rudi Keller, Source: Columbia Daily Tribune

State Is Looking At 2 Proposals

Missouri voters could decide whether the state will be the first to legalize marijuana in all its forms if organizers of a petition drive can collect the necessary signatures over the next 10 months.

A group calling itself Show-Me Cannabis, led in part by some of the principal proponents of Columbia’s lenient city marijuana law, turned in two proposals Wednesday to Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s office. Her office will decide whether it is ready to circulate and, if so, write the summary that will appear on the ballot.

The two measures are essentially identical. One would amend state law, and the other would put the legalization language into the Missouri Constitution. Both would legalize marijuana use for medical purposes, allow adults to consume marijuana under restrictions similar to those placed on alcohol and allow users to grow small plots of pot.

Farmers would be allowed to grow hemp, which is defined as marijuana without large amounts of the psychoactive substance THC.

Repealing the criminal laws governing marijuana would make Missouri safer, said Amber Langston, campaign director for Show-Me Cannabis. Frankly, we would like our society to be safer, and having this market in the hands of criminals doesn’t make anybody safer,=94 she said.

Langston was campaign manager for the successful 2004 city ordinance that called for marijuana possession cases to go to municipal rather than state court and eliminated jail sentences for violations. Dan Viets, a Columbia attorney and Missouri state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is chairman of the campaign.

Legalization would save money for state and local governments by eliminating prosecution and add to state coffers through taxes, Viets said. =93Our highest priority is to stop putting people in jail and putting people in prison for marijuana use,=94 he said.

Show-Me Cannabis must gather as many as 100,000 signatures to put a statutory change on the ballot. They must gather as many as 160,000 signatures to ask voters to change the constitution. No decision has been made on which will be circulated for signatures.

If successful =AD signatures must be in by May 6 =AD convincing voters would be the next task. Some of the most vigorous opposition is likely to come from law enforcement. The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys’ board of directors will meet next week, and the issue is likely to be discussed in depth, said Mike Fusselman, Randolph County prosecutor and past president of the association.

I think it is awfully difficult to take marijuana and place it in the same position as alcohol,=94 Fusselman said.

Criminal sanctions are the incentive for users to seek treatment to change their behavior, he said, and few people are in prison for marijuana who have not had several chances to avoid incarceration. The reality is that most prosecutors give these people every chance to deal with their problems,=94 Fusselman said.

MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart