By John Payne
The Missouri legislature adjourned last Friday, May 16, at 6:00 p.m. With three pieces of legislation we supported either before the Governor or already passed into law, I do not exaggerate when I say that this was the best session ever for our cause!
Of course, we still have many long miles to go, so I hope that this sets the stage for even greater victories to come. Nonetheless, I think we should take a moment to reflect on how far we've come in just the past few years since Show-Me Cannabis was formed nearly three years ago.
During the 2012 legislative session, only three cannabis law reforms bills were introduced --- a medical cannabis bill, a bill eliminating the lifetime ban on food stamp benefits to those with a prior drug conviction, and a full revision of state's criminal code. Of those three bills, only the food stamp bill received a hearing.
We were almost solely focused on our 2012 initiative campaign that spring, so we did not get directly involved with legislation until the 2013 session. However, I believe the discussion generated by our initiative campaign encouraged some of our legislative allies to get a bit bolder last year.
Legislators introduced a total of six cannabis law reform bills in 2013 --- double the figure from 2012 --- including bills for decriminalization, industrial hemp production, and expungement. The number of hearings quadrupled that year, as well. However, in the case of the decriminalization bill, the hearing did not take place until the very last day of the session, because the Speaker of the House did not assign the bill to committee until the final week.
None of the bills passed either chamber, but we were opening up the discussion, and those legislators who were willing to listen began to reconsider their preconceptions about cannabis policy. That set the stage for this year, which I believe will go down as the year the dam broke on cannabis policy in Missouri.
Legislators introduced eight cannabis reform bills this session, and six of them received at least one hearing. Three of them --- the criminal code revision, food stamp eligibility restoration, and a medical CBD bill --- passed outright. And, although they did not pass their respective houses, the Senate medical cannabis bill and the House hemp bill both received overwhelming approval and Do-Pass recommendations in their committee votes!
The legislative process often moves at a glacial pace. Those who demand instant gratification find it intolerable, and even the patient frequently grow frustrated that things do not change faster. However, the trend here is unmistakable: The more legislators (and the general public) learn about this issue, the more they come over to our side and publicly support reform.
That's why I say the dam has broken. We're a long way from where we need to be, but the taboo surrounding the issue is rapidly falling away, and people are now willing to engage in a real dialogue about it. And when you have the truth on your side, you will win in an open, honest debate.
We have reached the point where we control the fate of this issue. Our opposition can slow us down, but they can no longer determine the final outcome. Reformers are firmly in control now.
However, we can still defeat ourselves. If we grow complacent and assume that we can coast to victory on our momentum, our progress will stall. But as long as we keep pressing forward, I feel confident in saying that we will win.
In just a few months, we will be gearing up to wage this struggle for liberty and justice through both the legislature and the initiative petition, and that will require more resources than we've ever had at our disposal. By contributing --- especially on a recurring basis --- you provide us with the tools needed to put an end to cannabis prohibition in Missouri once and for all.