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Jackson County legislator opposes legalizing marijuana in Missouri

Updated: 2014-02-11T02:47:51Z

By MIKE HENDRICKS

The Kansas City Star

Fearing that Missouri might join the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, Jackson County Legislator Bob Spence says it’s time for the state to take a stand against that trend.

The Lee’s Summit Republican hopes to pass a resolution that would put Jackson County on record as opposing any effort to decriminalize marijuana in the Show Me State.

“Twenty states have already legalized it, and, my God, I just can’t believe that,” he said Monday. “I still believe it’s a dangerous drug.”

Spence failed on his first try Monday. His motion to pass the resolution died for lack of a second when two legislators were absent.

Spence plans to reintroduce the resolution next week and have it set for a hearing before the legislative committee that oversees the county’s COMBAT anti-drug tax. Had he not tried to force a vote Monday, the proposal would have been assigned to a committee where Spence and others could air the issue.

“I’m going to force them to vote one way or the other,” Spence said.

A bill that would allow marijuana use and possession for adults 21 and older was introduced last month in the Missouri House. The bill, sponsored by Democrat Chris Kelly of Columbia, is based on the law Colorado voters passed in 2012.

Colorado and Washington state have legalized pot for recreational use while 18 states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes . Other states are considering some form of legalization.

Even the Missouri bill’s biggest supporters acknowledge is has little chance of passing this session. Another recently introduced bill would set up a pilot program for medical marijuana, and a third would lower the penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug.

Spence says it is important for local governments to go on record before the push for legalization gains traction.

Spence’s resolution caught marijuana proponents by surprise. Dan Viets, a Columbia lawyer who is chairman of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, had not heard about it until informed by The Star on Monday.

Viets said his group would like to offer comment at any hearing on the measure.

Meanwhile, Show-Me Cannabis has taken steps that could lead to a statewide vote in November to legalize marijuana use and possession of a pound or less.

Secretary of State Jason Kander granted Viets permission to gather signatures on 16 separate initiative petitions, each with slightly different ballot language. Viets said he is waiting for polling results to determine which, if any, of the petitions to circulate.

Absent a strong majority of support, it wouldn’t make sense to spend the time and money, he said.

“We want to be close to 60 percent in order to go forward,” he said. A 2012 poll showed that more than half of the Missourians surveyed supported legalizing pot use, he said.

Viets also cited two studies showing that the state would benefit financially if pot were legal.

A study by Harvard University economics professor Jeffrey Miron concluded that legalizing marijuana in Missouri would save $90 million in costs related to enforcing marijuana laws and incarcerating offenders.

At the same time, it would yield $59 million in annual tax revenue, that study said.

However, the Missouri auditor’s office had far higher estimates in its evaluation of the ballot measures that Viets’ group has proposed. New tax revenue from marijuana sales could bring the state $217 million or more annually, the audits showed.

According to the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, Missouri has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country. While possessing less than 35 grams is a misdemeanor, someone convicted of having a single gram can get up to a year in jail and $1,000 fine.

Possessing more than 35 grams is a felony.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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