Missouri Bills Would Expunge Some Marijuana Charges

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Two bills prefiled in the Missouri House would 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 effect in the Show Me State.

Rep. Barbara Washington (D-Kansas City) filed House Bill 292 (HB292) on Dec. 18. Under the proposed law, any person convicted in Missouri of possession of 35 grams of marijuana or less after Dec. 31, 1997, and before Aug 29, 2018, would automatically have their convictions expunged from official records.

Beginning August 28, 2019, any person convicted of possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana would have all official records of the conviction expunged by the court on the day of conviction. In effect, people would still face criminal penalties marijuana possession, but would not have it on their record.

Rep. Ron Hicks (R-Dardenne Praire) introduced a similar bill (HB341). His 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,

In 2017, Missouri loosened penalties for possession of marijuana. Possession of 10 grams of cannabis or less was lowered from a class A to a class D misdemeanor with no jail time. Possession of between 10 and 35 grams was lowered from a felony to a class A misdemeanor. Then 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 HB292 and 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 either 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 HB292 and 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. HB238  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.

WHAT’S NEXT

HB292 and HB341 will be officially introduced when the 2019 legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

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