JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (April 2, 2022) – On Thursday, a Missouri House committee narrowly passed a bill that would legalize the adult use of marijuana despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Rep. Ronald Hicks (R) introduced House Bill 2704 (HB2704) on Feb. 15. Since then, 8 Republicans and 14 Democrats have signed on as cosponsors. The legislation would create the “Cannabis Freedom Act,” legalizing marijuana use and possession for adults aged 21 and older. It would also allow individuals to grow up to 12 plants for personal use. The legislation would also create a protocol for the expungement of prior, nonviolent marijuana offenses, and would prohibit the use of civil asset forfeiture related to marijuana.
The legislation would also create an application program for a marijuana business license, for growers, processors, and retailers.
On March 31, the House Public Safety Committee passed HB2704 by a 5-4 vote with some amendments.
One of the amendments has been described as a “poison pill.” The bill includes provisions to create a loan program to support women and minority-owned businesses participating in the market. But according to Marijuana Moment, Rep. Nick Schroer included language that revised the equity provisions to specify that only women who are “biologically” female would be eligible for the benefit. This will make it difficult for some Democrats to support the legislation.
Hicks told Marijuana moment he was “disappointed” with the change and that it unnecessarily partisan divides over rights for transgender people. The language has caused some cosponsors to balk.
It seems possible Schroer inserted the language simply to derail marijuana legalization in Missouri.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Missouri legalized medical marijuana in 2018 by a ballot measure, despite ongoing 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.
The legalization of marijuana for personal use in Missouri would take the next step and remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition would remain in effect. 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.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021 New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 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 move to legalize recreational marijuana in Oklahoma highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
HB2704 will move to the House Rules Committee.