Show-Me Cannabis Regulation Promotes Reforms
In a press conference at the Missouri state Capitol on the morning of Thursday, February 7, three members of the Missouri House of Representatives announced they are co-sponsoring, along with several other House members, legislation which would significantly reduce the penalties for marijuana and paraphernalia possession in the state of Missouri. Representative Rory Ellinger of University City is the chief sponsor of these bills. Representative Chris Kelly of Boone County and Representative Clem Smith of St. Louis joined with Representative Ellinger to speak in favor of the bills.
One of the bills is modeled on a Columbia ordinance passed by voters there in 2004. It would eliminate the possibility of arrest or jail for marijuana and paraphernalia possession. It would limit fines for such offenses to no more than $250, but it would also specifically encourage the Courts to make use of a disposition known as “Suspended Imposition of Sentence” (SIS) probation. When a Defendant is granted SIS probation, the Defendant is not convicted of the offense and, when that probation is successfully completed, there is no longer any public record of the entire matter.
Decriminalization of marijuana is generally defined as a law which eliminates the possibility of arrest or jail and which limits punishment to a fine only. By that definition, this legislation would be decriminalization, but it is certainly not legalization.
Many members of the state media attended the press conference. Representative Ellinger was asked if this is a “stepping stone” to full legalization. He stated that he was not presently promoting any further reform. However, Representative Kelly, a former Associate Circuit Judge, stated that he supports moving beyond this reform to full legalization, including taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce. Representative Smith stated that his district includes a college campus and that a minor marijuana offense should not haunt a young person for the rest of his or her life.
The second bill introduced by Representative Ellinger would expand the use of expungement. Presently, only a very few specific offenses can be expunged under Missouri law. This bill would allow for the expungement of all misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia cases, in both state and municipal courts, with the exception of violent or sex-related charges. Expungement would be available after five years with no additional similar convictions.
Dan Viets of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation also took part in the press conference and helped organize it. "Although these measures may seem like long shots, one year ago, no one would have predicted that the Republican majority in both houses would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine or reduce the term of probation in most felony drug cases by one half, especially during an election year," Viets said. "Those reforms passed with bipartisan support, and these bills can too. That means we will do everything we can to make it happen in 2013."
Commenting on the introduction of the bills, Show-Me Cannabis Regulation Executive Director John Payne emphasized the human costs of Missouri's current policies. "Every year, nearly 20,000 Missourians are put in chains and then relegated to second-class citizenship by a criminal record for the possession of small amounts of marijuana," Payne said. "This policy costs Missouri taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year, but does nothing to decrease marijuana use or eliminate the harms associated with the black market. There are no other proposals before our legislators that can do so much good so easily."
Show-Me Cannabis Regulation is an association of organizations and individuals, who believe that cannabis prohibition is a failed policy, and regulating and taxing cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol would better control the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis than the criminal market does. The group seeks to engage Missourians in a serious, public discussion about the issues associated with marijuana consumption, including medical cannabis, industrial hemp, public safety, and financial analysis in order to address problems associated with the current, failed policy.