JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Feb. 25, 2021) – On Wednesday, a Missouri House Committee held a hearing on a bill to prohibit the disclosure of medical marijuana patients’ information to unauthorized parties, including the Federal government.

Rep. Mark Ellebracht (D), introduced House Bill 198 (HB198) and Rep. Nick Shroer (R) introduced House Bill 501 (HB501), in early January. The legislation would make it a felony for any state agency or its employees to disclose to the Federal government or unauthorized third parties, any list or personal information of those with the right to access medical marijuana in the state.

Yesterday, the House Downsizing State Government Committee held a public hearing on HB501, the first step for the bill in the legislative process.

Missouri amended its state constitution to legalize medical marijuana through a ballot initiative in November of 2018.

Currently, the Department of Justice is barred from spending funds to prosecute medical marijuana users in states that have legalized medicinal cannabis. But there were efforts by the Trump administration to get that ban lifted. In May of 2018, then-attorney general Jeff Sessions sent a letter to congressional leadership imploring them to lift the ban.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

So far, Congress has kept the ban in place, but it could change the policy at any time. Passage of HB198 or HB501 would make it more difficult for the feds to prosecute medical marijuana users in Missouri should the federal government decide to initiate a crackdown by preventing the DoJ from obtaining lists of individuals on the state registry.

It would also protect gun owners who use medical marijuana. According to the ATF, if you lawfully use marijuana, medical or otherwise, the feds say you may not purchase a firearm or ammunition. By withholding registry information from the feds, it would make it more difficult for the ATF to determine who is using marijuana in order to enforce its regulations.

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. This is significant because 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 HB198 or HB501 would further limit that state assistance and make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce prohibition in the Show-Me State.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Missouri is one of 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. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. During the November election, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey legalized marijuana for recreational use.

With 36 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for adult recreational 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.

The push to expand medical marijuana laws in Missouri demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. HB198  and HB501 are 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. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.

WHAT’S NEXT

At the time of this report, HB198 had not been referred to a committee. HB501 is now eligible to get an executive session in the House Downsizing State Government Committee. It will need to pass by a majority vote to move forward in the legislative process.

Amanda Bowers


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Small things grow great by concord...

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