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The Pot Debate
By Gretchen Bolander
JOPLIN, MO.--- Colorado says it's okay to smoke marijuana, but in Missouri, using pot to get high is a criminal offense. Now, several efforts are underway to change the rules.
"Colorado has become an experiment. New York State, Washington, the District of Columbia are watching Colorado and the experience there," said Nll Abrahams, MSSU Economics Professor.
In Missouri, the potential for change is there. Supporters argue that the effects of pot aren't all that different from alcohol. They claim it would free up law enforcement resources and bring in tax revenue.
"There's no doubt about that, it would be a money making thing. The question is, do the people of Missouri want to make money on marijuana," said Abrahams.
A statewide vote would be one way to decide. More than a dozen initiative petitions were submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State's Office as potential changes to the state constitution.
"We did some polling for likely 2014 voters. And it wasn't promising enough given the short time span to go ahead and take that risk and do it. So what we're going to do is go for 2016 would be full legalization," said Maranda Reynolds, Show Me Cannabis.
Even though voters won't make the call this year, there could be legislative changes. Like House Bill 1659, which would allow recreational use. There's been a public hearing for the measure, but not much else.
"The full legalization of marijuana, I don't think it has a lot of traction in the Missouri House. If you look at the people of Southwest Missouri, it polls about 80% against legalization. So I don't think there will be support for the outright legalization," said Representative Charlie Davis, Missouri District 162.
Both the House and Senate have approved House Bill 2238, which would allow the use of hemp oil- a cannabis extract, but only for patients with epilepsy. That measure is still awaiting the governor's signature. Jay Nixon also has a decision to make about the state criminal code. State representatives and senators passed a revamp, which among other things would change how the justice system handles some minor marijuana charges.
"Possession of any amount of marijuana will still be a crime. How much will determine the severity of the crime," said Dean Dankelson, Jasper County Prosecutor.
The bill proposes a fine only for possession of under 10 grams.
"Rather than being thrown in jail. I think most people would look at that and say it's common sense," said Dankelson.
10 to 35 grams means 1 year in the county jail, and larger amounts mean prison time.
"Possession of more than 35 grams, just like now, will still be a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison," said Dankelson.
The pot debate doesn't stop there. For more, click here.