MCDONALD COUNTY, Mo. — Floating season has arrived in the Four States and Memorial weekend has floating and campground services sold out – especially in Southwest Missouri along the Elk River, Big Sugar, Little Sugar, and Indian Creek.
Float trips are often coupled with alcohol and an increased need for law enforcement. And now, with the legalization of marijuana in Missouri, there are some questions about what authorities will allow when people take to outdoor fun.
Three agencies will be patrolling local waterways: The Missouri Conservation Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol Marine Division, and local law enforcement agencies.
“Whatever you are doing, do it in moderation,” said McDonald County Sheriff Rob Evenson. “We usually have at least one drowning every year on the river.”
Sheriff Evenson says it’s the busiest holiday for their agency. He says reserve officers along with off-duty officers will be working extra shifts this weekend as they expect to see hundreds of calls.
“We make plans to prepare for that volume of calls. We will be focused on alcohol intoxication, fights, disturbances, and domestic-related calls. There’s always been a lot of marijuana on the river—the only difference is this is the first year it’s legal,” he said.
Sgt. Travis Sheppard of the Noel Marshals Office says marijuana is not the main issue.
“People are out in the sun and heat while drinking alcohol, they get extremely dehydrated. They think they’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof, they’re passing out, causing a disturbance. The thing I’d encourage is to drink a lot of water,” he said. “We want you here. Have a good time. But don’t come here on vacation and leave on probation. Make good choices.”
Missouri’s marijuana law says users must be 21 and older to consume marijuana, and in general – it’s against the law to smoke marijuana in public spaces. Most Missouri rivers are considered public spaces if they are navigable. However, not all properties surrounding the rivers and creeks are public.
McDonald County Prosecuting Attorney, Maleia Cheney said it’s legal for users to possess and use marijuana within their private areas, however, if officers see someone using it on the river outside of private places, they could issue a ticket. But due to the number of calls agencies are expected to receive this weekend, it’s not a priority.
“Unless someone is causing an issue publicly, it’s not worth officers’ time and resources to ticket marijuana on the river,” she says. “This is the first summer we are experiencing this since the law changed. It will be experimental. We will see what officers encounter and what we need to file.”
She says those using marijuana should be aware of their intoxication because it can affect their driving ability. If you’ve been smoking on the river all day, she says you shouldn’t drive.
“I encourage everyone to come float and have a safe time. It’s a better time for floaters, officers, and campgrounds, if everyone remains responsible while floating,” she adds.