JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Feb. 19, 2019) – Last week, a Missouri House committee passed a bill that would create a process to expunge the sentences of some people charged under the state’s marijuana laws. Passage into law would take another step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in practice in the Show Me State.
Rep. Ron Hicks (R-Dardenne Praire) prefiled House Bill 341 (HB341) in December. The legislation would allow patients with medical marijuana cards to have convictions for certain marijuana-related offenses and violations committed prior to the legalization of medical marijuana in Missouri expunged.
On Feb. 14, the Special Committee on Criminal Justice passed HB341 by a 7-2 vote.
Under the proposed law, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would be required to notify every person who obtains a medical marijuana card that he or she
may be eligible to have any marijuana-related misdemeanor offenses or municipal violations expunged if the offense or violation occurred in Missouri prior to the issuance of the patient ID card. The department would be required to provide all information to the cardholder necessary to file a petition for expungement.
“If the court determines, after hearing, that an individual has been issued a patient identification card, the misdemeanor offense or municipal violation seeking to be expunged is marijuana-related, and such offense or violation occurred within the state of Missouri prior to the issuance of the patient identification card, the court shall enter an order for expungement.”
In Nov. 2018, voters approved a state constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.
In the past, we’ve seen some opposition to marijuana legalization bills because the new laws generally leave those previously charged and convicted unprotected. The introduction of HB341 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
Passage of the measure would not only help some people with prior marijuana arrests and convictions on their record get a new start, it would also further undermine federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Missouri’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Passage of HB341 would further undermine prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in the Show Me State.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Missouri joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. and Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.
With 33 states including Missouri allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
Expansion of medical marijuana laws in Missouri demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. HB341 is a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law.
HB341 was referred to Rules Administrative Oversight Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving to the House floor.
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