JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — A Missouri lawmaker wants to legalize recreational marijuana in hopes of bringing more revenue to the state and getting rid of the black market.
Lawmakers are returning to Capitol later this week to kick off the 2021 legislative session. For the first time ever, a Missouri Republican representative is pushing to legalize recreational marijuana. If it passes, it would even clear the records of those with previous marijuana charges.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, is sponsoring the proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 30 (HJR 30).
“We spend more time and more law enforcement resources going after marijuana smokers than all the other drugs combined,” Dogan said. “Ten percent of the arrest in the state of Missouri right now are from marijuana possession.”
Sixteen states have already legalized marijuana, but Dogan said it’s time for Missouri to craft its own regulations and restrictions that make sense for Missouri.
“I think alcohol prohibition taught us that trying to prohibit something this way, the way we’ve gone about marijuana prohibition, it backfires,” Dogan said.
The proposed amendment would allow Missourians 21 and older to use cannabis. The amendment would remove marijuana from the state’s list of controlled substances.
“And it automatically lets out of prison anybody that is still serving a prison term for marijuana-only offenses and then expunges from your record if you have a non-violent marijuana offense,” Dogan said. “If you are currently incarcerated [more than] a marijuana offense, so if you have a marijuana offense but you also committed a robbery, you don’t get out.”
Dogan said there is no restriction in his amendment on the amount someone can legally possess.
“I mean, you can buy any amount of alcohol you want, right?” Dogan said. “You can buy any amount of tobacco that you want, so I think it should be regulated the same ways.”
Missouri voters approved the state’s medical marijuana program in 2018 with the ballot question winning by 65 percent of the vote. Since then, the state has issued 358 business licenses, which has brought in millions to the state’s veterans fund.
“It would put a 4 percent tax on medical, which we already have, and then a 12 percent on recreational, which would be one of the lowest in the country,” Dogan said.
Unlike the medical marijuana program, Dogan said his legislation will not cap the number of licenses issued statewide.
“If you could put together a business plan, if you could get approval from your city or county board in terms of zoning, in terms of whatever restrictions they want to put on not having these places too close to schools, but beyond the city and county ordinances about locational and number per city and per county, there wouldn’t be any state regulation of that,” Dogan said.
The reason Dogan said he is proposing the low tax is because it stops Missourians from buying cannabis from an outside source.
“If you make that tax too high, then you still have a pretty robust black market,” Dogan said.
Dogan said the taxes could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the state, which would go towards more than just veterans.
“But also towards drug treatment programs and, very critically, it would go towards infrastructure, including broadband. I know that’s an issue,” he said.
He also believes this is a great opportunity for farmers in Missouri.
“We do have agricultural hemp that’s allowed, but if you wanted to grow [marijuana] to sell it, you couldn’t do that,” Dogan said.
Since it is a constitutional amendment, if it is passed by the lawmakers, recreational marijuana would not immediately be legal. Instead, the decision would go to voters on the ballot in 2022.
“I think especially with an issue as important as this, it’s something that we do want to hear from the people of Missouri on to make sure we’re doing this the right way and to make sure that we have their support,” Dogan said.
Dogan said, although there’s nothing in this amendment that directly addresses the racial disparities in arrests, he hopes it will help.
“I think that if we’re not arresting anybody for marijuana possession, then I think we will see a lot of people have unnecessary encounters with police go down,” Dogan said.
The 101st General Assembly starts Wednesday.