Missouri’s recreational marijuana ballot issue is about more than just legalizing pot

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 5:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It will now be up to voters in November to decide if recreational marijuana will be legalized in Missouri. But the issue also has implications for people who have marijuana-related criminal records.

Legal Missouri 2022, the campaign backing the ballot measure, collected more than 214,000 verified signatures to put recreational marijuana legalization to a vote. That was about 30,000 more signatures than the requirement.

“There’s been a number of public polls released over the summer, and they’ve all shown 60 percent-or-above support for legalizing marijuana in Missouri,” said John Payne, the Campaign Manager for Legal Missouri 2022. “It’s something I’ve been passionate about for 20-plus years, and to finally see it come to fruition is very exciting. I think voters are going to vote ‘Yes’ to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in Missouri.”

And that’s what the ballot proposal does, legalize, tax, and regulate with an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would:

--Make marijuana legal for adults over 21 to purchase, possess, consume, deliver, manufacture and sell for personal use

--Require a registration card for growing your own (up to six flowering plants)

--Impose a 6 percent tax on sales to benefit various programs like the Dept. of Health and Senior Services, which will regulate the industry

--Have a lottery to award licenses to businesses

--Allow most people with non-violent marijuana offenses to get out of jail, probation, or parole and have their criminal record cleared

Douglas Co. Sheriff Chris Degase points out that with so many marijuana offenders also involved in other crimes, expunging part of their record will affect the length of their sentencing in those non-marijuana cases.

“We see people now who’ve committed felonies get a plea agreement that gets it down to a misdemeanor offense,” Sherif Degase explained. “So by the time they’ve committed their third felony, they only have one-or-two on their record, which affects the sentence they get on that third felony. We already fight the system and the Department of Corrections on the amount of time people spend in prison. You get a five-year sentence, you do maybe six months of that so that prior persistence becomes a big issue.”

“Our response would be that the marijuana offense shouldn’t have been an offense in the first place,” Payne countered. “People shouldn’t get enhanced penalties for something like that if we’re going to say this should be a legal, regulated substance.”

The sheriff also pointed to crimes that have gone up since medical marijuana became legal.

“Some of the things that concerned me when that passed have come true,” Sheriff Degase said. “We’ve had numerous cases of people using their own medical marijuana card to buy it and then sell it. And our drunk driving offenses are up 100 percent. We are finding a lot of people driving under the influence of marijuana and finding they drive as bad if not worse than those who are under the influence of alcohol.”

“There is no change to how we treat driving under the influence,” Payne responded. “That will remain illegal. People can still be arrested and should be arrested for doing that if they’re endangering other people.”

Sheriff Degase is a statewide Missouri Sheriffs’ Association member and said while that organization hasn’t issued an official stance yet, he has already made his decision.

“We have a meeting next week, and I’m sure that’s going to be one of the main topics,” he said. “But I’m dead against legalizing marijuana. It’s a mind-altering drug. I think it’s going to be detrimental to our economy and our workforce. If you look at Colorado and the states that have already done it, they’re selling out for the money. We’re going to have a lot more drunk driving and car insurance going up because of the increase in accidents. We’ll see a lot more unemployment because I don’t see how an employer can hire somebody who’s going to come to work high every day, especially with the work comp situation. The first thing you do when there’s an accident takes a drug test. At what point do we stop? Are we going to start legalizing meth next?”

“I don’t think the Missouri public is going to vote to legalize meth,” Payne replied. “If voters are going to do that, we are in a very different place than we’re in today. But I do think voters want to see this reform pass. I think it’s a very different substance and relatively innocuous.”

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