A new (and still muddled) frontier in Missouri’s history starts on Thursday with legalized pot

Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 6:38 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2022 at 9:30 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On Thursday, December 8, Amendment 3 will officially be added to Missouri’s Constitution. The amendment legalizes the recreational use of limited amounts of marijuana for adults and expunges some non-violent pot-related offenses.

Much of Amendment 3′s far-reaching effects will take a while to come to fruition, but what is happening on Thursday?

“As of midnight (Wednesday into Thursday), it will be legal for every person in Missouri above the age of 21 to possess up to three ounces of marijuana,” said Dan Viets, the CEO-Attorney for Missouri NORML.

But there’s some ambiguity in all of this.

Currently, the provisions of Amendment 3 that relate to buying or cultivating recreational pot are not in place.

The earliest recreational marijuana will be available for purchase is in February 2023. That’s when medical marijuana facilities can be done by converting their licenses to include recreational cannabis. Additionally, the DHSS will be licensing at least two new dispensaries in each of the state’s eight congressional districts, but they can’t get their licenses until September 2023.

And while individuals will be allowed to grow limited amounts of pot on their own, they will need to apply for a personal cultivation registration card (with a $100 application fee) in a process that won’t see the cards go out until around February 2023.

“So while they are technically able to possess it Thursday, by law, there’s nobody they can legally buy it from,” pointed out Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole. “And that creates a huge problem for us in law enforcement.”

“When medical marijuana was first legalized, many police officers were hung up on the fact they could not have obtained this legally,” Viets countered. “That really doesn’t matter. The illegal market will continue as it has for decades, and the right to possess it is protected now.”

Sheriff Cole noted that was just one of several things about the new amendment that the legislature or courts must clear up.

“It’s a process we’re not looking forward to at all,” he said. “When you have an amendment to the Constitution that has more pages than the Constitution has in total, it’s going to be a learning process for everybody.”

In a news release, Missouri NORML said that Missouri’s law outlawing “hashish dens” in 1889 is believed to be the oldest anti-marijuana law in the nation. So Amendment 3 is actually repealing the longest-standing marijuana prohibition in the country.

And they also pointed out that the effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri has been going on for more than 50 years. So Thursday starts a new and different world for those who’ve sought to decriminalize pot.

“The main thing it means is that 20,000 people will not get arrested this year,” Viets said. “20,000 fewer cases in the courts. Twenty thousand fewer matters that will take the attention of the police away from more important things like investigating violent and property crimes.”

“Legalization of marijuana is not going to make our job easier at all,” Cole said. “You talk to any sheriff in the state of Colorado (where recreational pot is already legal), and you’ll find out crime rates are going to spike in certain areas, traffic crashes and fatalities are going to increase, and your insurance rates are going to go up.”

And while possession of marijuana in small amounts will be legal, some things won’t change.

“You can’t just stand on a street corner and smoke marijuana,” Cole pointed out. “There’s going to be a lot of people who end up in court because they thought it was O.K. to do that.”

“It is a law violation subject to a ticket and a fine of up to $100,” Viets added. “People also can’t drive impaired because of cannabis use, and they should be very careful that they’re not consuming in a motor vehicle. They should also keep in mind that they can’t sell marijuana to other people. But it is legal to give it to them (up to three ounces).”

And while recreational pot is legal in the eyes of the state, Sheriff Cole points out another factor that muddies the water.

“It’s still a crime related to the federal code,” he said.

And when asked if law enforcement could still arrest people under federal law?

“Absolutely,” Cole replied. “Federal prosecutors have a threshold of what they believe to be trafficking compared to just a simple possession charge. So there is still the opportunity to have that happen.”

The one thing most people agree on is that it’s going to be a different world with recreational marijuana now legal. The disagreement comes on just how different.

“People who use marijuana are generally responsible, good citizens,” Viets said. “We’re not going to see any radical changes in society. We’re simply going to stop treating those good people as if they were criminals.”

“It’s a sign of the times, and things are changing,” Sheriff Cole said. “These are things the general public is going to have to educate themselves about what you can and can’t do, just like we in law enforcement are doing. I never thought I’d see the day when the state of Missouri would pass this. But our job is to enforce the law, and we will do what we’re supposed to do according to the law. But it doesn’t mean we have to like it. I’m not sure if any law enforcement officer in the state likes what is getting ready to happen, and I’m not sure the citizens know what impact it’s going to have on our communities because it’s going to have a huge sweeping effect on a lot of things people never thought of.”

As for the state directive to expunge hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests from public records, all misdemeanor marijuana and paraphernalia charges are expected to be expunged by July. All felony cases involving possession of up to three pounds should be expunged by the end of 2023.

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