JEFFERSON CITY – Supporters of legalized marijuana are getting an early start on an initiative that could put the issue to a public vote on Missouri’s 2016 ballot.
A pro-marijuana initiative was the first item submitted to the secretary of state’s office on the first day possible to propose measures for the next general election. By Thursday, it was posted online for public comment.
The proposed constitutional amendment would make it legal to produce, sell and use marijuana in Missouri for people age 21 and older. The goal is to tax and regulate marijuana in a similar way as alcohol, said Columbia attorney Dan Viets, who submitted the measure.
The Missouri initiative comes after voters on Tuesday approved legalized marijuana in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. Recreational use of marijuana already is legal in Colorado and Washington state.
Before a petition can be circulated for signatures in Missouri, it must receive approval from the secretary of state and attorney general and get a financial estimate from the state auditor. The petition summary prepared by the secretary of state’s office then could face legal challenges, and supporters would have until May 2016 to collect the roughly 165,000 signatures of registered voters needed to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.
Although some Missouri cities already have passed local ordinances decriminalizing marijuana possession, it remains a state crime punishable by up to a year in prison to possess up to 35 grams. A state criminal code revision set to take effect in 2017 would remove the possibility of jail time for first-time offenders convicted of possessing less than 10 grams.
The proposed initiative would invalidate those laws and require a state license to produce, deliver and sell marijuana, which could be taxed at 25 percent of its price. The tax revenues would be divided among pension plans for law enforcement officers and firefighters, K-12 schools, substance abuse programs, military veterans’ services, college scholarships and local governments.
Viets is criminal defense lawyer who is chairman of Show-Me Cannibas and secretary of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is a longtime critic of Missouri’s criminal marijuana laws.
“The vast majority of people who use marijuana are adults who use it responsibly. They do not deserve to be treated like criminals,” Viets said. “We squander millions of tax dollars persecuting and prosecuting marijuana smokers, and we lose tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.”
Viets also proposed initiatives in 2012 and 2014 to legalize marijuana. The effort two years ago fell well short of the needed petition signatures and supporters didn’t try to collect signatures this year. Viets said an aggressive effort is planned for the 2016 ballot using a mixture of volunteer and paid petition circulators.
Some public opinion polls have shown most Americans now favor legalization of marijuana. But legalization proposals have gained little traction in Missouri’s Republican-led legislature, which is why Viets said supporters are turning to the initiative process.