Legalization Initiatives Okayed in Missouri

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Marijuana advocates are busy in Missouri.

Columbia criminal defense attorney Dan Viets has filed 13 separate petitions to legalize marijuana with the secretary of state. On Jan. 15, they were all cleared for signature gathering.

Viets and his group, Show-Me Cannabis, now have until May 4 to collect valid signatures from 157,778 voters if they want one of those proposals to make the ballot. The signatures must include at least 8 percent of registered voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

missouri marijuana leafThe petitions are closely related, with variations on how many plants residents could grow, whether prior marijuana convictions would be expunged, and how advertising would be regulated, Viets said.

“We’re proposing to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol,” he said. “If the polling is not promising, we might not even put it on the ballot.”

Legalization supporters are hopeful the public will back reform. Previous polling by Show-Me Cannabis showed 50 percent of Missourians back legal weed – 54 percent when more information was given.

But those numbers are usually above 60 percent for successful initiatives, according to observers. Still, Viets and his fellow activists believe Missouri is ready for change. And they’re not waiting for state lawmakers to take action, as some politicians would like.

“We believe the legislature is totally out of touch with the voters of Missouri on this,” Viets said. “Good people are being treated like criminals. It’s the stupidest possible arrangement. We squander millions to enforce an unenforceable law and don’t see a penny from the people who are making money selling marijuana.”

State Rep. Rory Ellinger, a Democrat, introduced a bill in January to adopt medical marijuana and decriminalize simple possession.

The developments in Missouri are a sign of just how fast things are changing in America. Movements are underway to legalize everywhere from Rhode Island to Alaska, and those have a strong chance of succeeding.

But efforts are also proceeding in red states such as Wyoming and Missouri, where odds are long. And though these initiatives may not succeed in 2014 – though no one’s declaring them dead just yet – they’re building a base of support for legal weed in what might seem to be hostile territory.

And it’s always possible that the most optimistic marijuana advocates are right, and marijuana reform is nothing like abortion or Obamacare or gun control: It won’t divide the country much longer, and our obsession with it was a long but passing problem.

In Missouri, the people behind Show-Me Cannabis will now have to convince a large number of voters, many skeptical, to support their initiative. And they’ll apparently have to do it without significant backing from national cannabis groups. It’s an uphill climb, but one they believe even Missouri is ready to make.

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