House Committee Hears Bill That Would Legalize Marijuana

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JEFFERSON CITY - A House representative from Columbia will be presenting a bill Monday that would change marijuana laws.

Representative Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, will present HB1659, which proposes to legalize marijuana and tax it like alcohol. It would allow anyone at least 21 years old to produce, sell, or use marijuana while under reasonable regulations from state government. 

"The purpose of the bill is to legalize, regulate, and tax personal possession of marijuana, allow marijuana for medical reasons, and to decrease the amount of money we waste on law enforcement."

Kelly said the bill would save money by not criminalizing the drug.

"The important thing is here is we've wasted billions of dollars chasing marijuana and we probably haven't stopped one person from smoking one marijuana joint. And yet we've ruined thousands of young people's lives, it's time to stop."

The process of legalizing marijuana can go down this legislative route or also through a petition. In January, the Secretary of State approved 13 initiative petition proposals by the group Show-Me Cannabis. Each proposal differed in the number of plants a person would be allowed to cultivate and if marijuana-related crimes could be cleared from a person's record. 

Those efforts have been sidelined. Dan Viets, chairman of the board of directors at Show-Me Cannabis, said "It's far far cheaper and far far easier if the legislature will pass this proposal than for us to gather 160,000 signatures and launch a statewide campaign." Viets said. "Obviously we would prefer the Legislature pass this."

Viets said Colorado and Washington have passed similar legislation. He said his group filed essentially the same proposal in their group with the Secretary of State as the bill Kelly is presenting Monday night. He said the bill's passing will be a challenge.

"It's an uphill fight," Viets said. "I think we've got some support on the committee. I think we have at least a handful of committee members who would support this bill. But the Speaker controls what actually reaches the House floor so it is an uphill fight."

Viets said if the bill does not get past the committee, his group will make efforts to get the marijuana issue on voting ballots for November 2016. 

The associate executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in St. Louis said his organization is against the legalization of marijuana. He said the answer to the issue lies in the middle by decriminalizing marijuana and making sure people know it's not harmless. He said he doesn't want to encourage use.