Ideological Differences Spark Controversy Inside Missouri's Marijuana Movement

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NORML founder Keith Stroup disbanded the organization's Kansas City chapter last month after investigating complaints. - Courtesy Keith Stroup
Courtesy Keith Stroup
NORML founder Keith Stroup disbanded the organization's Kansas City chapter last month after investigating complaints.

November 5 marked a milestone for the marijuana-reform organization Show-Me Cannabis. In the months leading up to that date the group had busied itself meeting with attorneys, conducting polls and closely monitoring legalization efforts in other states. Now, a day after the mid-term elections, Show-Me Cannabis was ready to formally submit its proposed constitutional amendment allowing the sale, taxation and regulation of marijuana in Missouri for those over the age of 21.

"Two more states and the District of Columbia rejected cannabis prohibition at the ballot box yesterday," wrote Show-Me Cannabis executive director John Payne in a November 5 press release trumpeting its ballot initiative. "We fully intend to join them in 2016, so we are starting this process as early as we possibly can. We still have a long road ahead of us, but we can feel the wind at our backs."

Two months later, Show-Me Cannabis is now in the process of gathering signatures to get its proposed amendment before voters in 2016. Doing so is no easy task. It needs 160,000-plus voters to sign the petition, and many of those autographs need to come from Missourians living in the state's more rural (and conservative) congressional districts. Payne estimates that the group will also need to raise millions of dollars for an awareness campaign and to pay for signature gathering. And if those obstacles are not enough, there's now the threat of a competing ballot initiative that, at the very least, could serve to confuse the public about Show-Me Cannabis' goals.

See also: Show-Me Cannabis Files Petition to Put Legal Weed on November 2016 Ballot

On December 2, another legalization effort filed its own petition with the state. Unlike the one backed by Show-Me Cannabis, this proposed amendment would place absolutely no restrictions on the use of marijuana in Missouri. Anyone could use it and the state could not regulate and tax it, making a Missouri an outlier even among progressive states such as Colorado and Washington that were the first to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

That this ultra-lenient and arguably irresponsible ballot initiative (it expressly prohibits police from issuing DUIs to those under the influence of marijuana) came from the Kansas City chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was of no surprise to the folks at Show-Me Cannabis. Over the past year, Kansas City NORML and its president, Nick Raines, had developed a reputation as rogue crusaders within the state's pot reform movement. Where Show-Me Cannabis heeds a more mainstream approach toward reform, Raines and his cohorts believe regulation and taxation represent nothing short of surrender.

Such ideological divides are not uncommon among marijuana activists, but here in Missouri they've taken a peculiar and nasty turn that earlier this month led the governing body of NORML to disband its Kansas City chapter.

"They want to make us out to be the bad guys," says Raines, the man in the middle of the controversy who stands accused of threatening fellow marijuana activists. "I don't understand why people are so scared."

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