By Dan Viets
Under a federal law passed by Congress in 1996, those who have ever been convicted of a drug-related felony suffer a lifetime disqualification for receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. Murderers, rapists, robbers and child molesters can get food stamps. Only those convicted of a drug offense suffer this additional punishment.
While one may debate the wisdom of the food stamp program generally, there is absolutely no rational justification for inflicting this additional punishment only on those convicted of a drug offense. Many, if not most, of those convicted of drug offenses are guilty only of marijuana law violations. Possessing more than one and one-quarter ounces, attempting to sprout a single seed, or even just sharing marijuana with another person can be charged as a felony in our state.
Congress gave states the option to "opt out" from this law. Forty-one other states have done so.
According to the Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW), Missouri is losing at least $6 million each year in tax money which would be coming back to our state in the form of food stamp assistance if we would opt out of this law. This money would invigorate our economy, and would be spent in local grocery stores and farmers' markets.
After many years of efforts, we are closer than ever to passing a bill which will end this irrational discrimination. Senate Bill 680 passed the Senate by a vote of 29-4 on April 2. Last week, the House Government Oversight Committee and Rules Committee both recommended this bill for passage and reported the bill to the full House.
As we enter the final week of the regular session of the 2014 General Assembly, it is very possible that this law will pass. I urge you to contact your member of the Missouri House of Representatives and ask him or her to vote in favor of Senate Bill 680. You may also contact House Speaker Tim Jones at Tim.Jones@house.mo.gov or by calling 573-751-0562 and urge him to allow this bill to come before the House for a vote this week.
We have achieved unprecedented success in the Missouri legislature this session with the passage of a bill allowing CBD to be extracted from cannabis grown in our state and provided to those who suffer from intractable epilepsy, as well as legislation eliminating jail for first offense marijuana possession under ten grams and eliminating the no probation, no parole provisions of the Missouri "prior and persistent drug offender" law. We have a chance to achieve another major victory this week by encouraging the Missouri House to end the irrational drug violation food stamp disqualification law.