MISSOURI: A planned open forum for discussing marijuana policy in the state of Missouri eventually turned into a pep-rally of sorts for its legalization Thursday night at the Columbia Public Library.
“Does it make sense to do it now?” Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, wondered aloud about advocating legalizing marijuana. “I know what it takes to win a campaign, and I want to see it.”
To that, a standing room only crowd at the Columbia Public Library cheered and applauded.
The panel discussion was led by local attorney and advocate Dan Viets. Two members of the Missouri House of Representatives — Kelly and Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City — attended. Also in attendance was Bob Roper, a self-proclaimed libertarian conservative columnist for the Columbia Daily Tribune and Hank Waters, the publisher of the Tribune.
The crowd argued in favor of legalization based on medical reasons, what they saw as benefits to ridding society of illegal marijuana trade, and an unjust history of federal prohibition.
Some, like Roper, said they saw reforming marijuana laws as an opportunity to restrict the reach of government.
At least one person in the crowd was against marijuana reform.
“I’m not convinced that it won’t become more widespread, especially among young people,” Kelly Quick said after the forum. “There’s no way of knowing how many people would be using.”
Quick said that if a measure were passed, medical marijuana should be controlled like prescription drugs.
The discussion among organizers and the state representatives did not focus much on the philosophical debate. Instead, they tried to talk strategy throughout the forum.
Ellinger noted progress the legislature has made recently to advance marijuana legislation. This year, on the last day of the legislative session, the overwhelmingly Republican legislature held a hearing on Ellinger’s decriminalization bill.
“It’s extremely important that we reach across the table and that we don’t call names ,” Ellinger said. “We must have Republican sponsorship no matter what we come up with. It’s very important.”
Ellinger said that this session he would follow Kelly’s lead on marijuana legislation. After the forum, Kelly remained undecided on whether to seek a ballot initiative or forge a path through the legislature.
Kelly also said he didn’t know whether to introduce a bill to authorize medical marijuana, introduce one to decriminalize it, or introduce one to fully legalize the drug.
The difference between decriminalization and legalization is that decriminalization still carries a penalty of a fine but doesn’t result in jail time.
He remained skeptical that a ballot initiative would be the best way to move forward because of concerns about any initiative’s language.
“I’d rather do it through the legislature because if you do a ballot initiative, they invariably get it wrong. Ballot initiatives get it wrong 100 percent of the time, even the ones I support,” Kelly said.
He also remained skeptical that, despite the cheering at the forum, there was enough organizational support to pass a measure.
“I know that there are lots of people in Columbia, Mo., that support legalization,” Kelly said. “The question I have is, is there a sufficient organizational capacity to put together a campaign.”