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Monday, May 5, 2014

Missouri's New Marijuana Laws Are "Small Step" Forward

Posted By on Mon, May 5, 2014 at 10:40 AM

click to enlarge Marijuana got a tiny green light in Missouri last month. - PABLO FLORES/WIKIMEDIA
  • Pablo Flores/Wikimedia
  • Marijuana got a tiny green light in Missouri last month.

Missouri's marijuana laws made an inch of progress last month, but they are still among the strictest in the nation and yes, you can still get arrested for a joint. However, people with severe epilepsy will have better access to medicine and the severest marijuana penalty in the country has been somewhat taken off the books.

In the omnibus crime bill that passed both the House and Senate and is now awaiting Governor Jay Nixon's signature, the most progressive change is a law that will allow patients with severe epilepsy to use cannabis oil for treatment. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate (32-0) and overwhelmingly in the House (130 to 12). One reason for the easy passage could be that patients can only use it after a doctor has recommended three other medications that have proven not to work effectively.

But another reason is the intense lobbying parents of children with severe epilepsy did in Jefferson City, with several mothers and fathers testifying in front of Senate panels and knocking on legislators' doors. Epilepsy patients have been a strong force in getting medical marijuana legislation passed in conservative states. Alabama and Tennessee have passed similar legislation to address the medical needs of people, especially children, suffering from epilepsy.

See also: Cannabis Oil Bill: Step Forward for Medical Marijuana or Just a Way to Stall Progress?

Another big change in Missouri's marijuana laws is a new provision that eliminates the possibility of jail time for a first-time offense of under ten grams of marijuana. However, this does not mean decriminalization -- and one can still be arrested, booked, and get a criminal record if caught with under ten grams of pot. Here's how the law reads:

The offense of possession of more than ten grams but less than 36 grams of marijuana or any synthetic cannabinoid is a class A misdemeanor.

The offense of possession of not more than 10 grams of marijuana or any synthetic cannabinoid is a class D misdemeanor. If the defendant has previously been found guilty of any offense to the laws related to controlled substances of this state, or of the United States, or any state, territory, or district, the offense is a class A misdemeanor.

"Nobody should call this decriminalization," attorney Dan Viets, who served on the Missouri Bar Committee that drafted the bill, tells Daily RFT. "Decriminalization means no arrest and no criminal record, but if cops choose to book you, they still can. It's a small step, but it's a step in the right direction."

And one more important note: This law, if it does go into effect as is, won't be officially on the books until January 2017. So until then, the law is what it is now, which means one can serve up to a year in jail for under 35 grams of marijuana.

One more big change to the state's marijuana laws would end sentences with mandatory no parole or probation for third felony marijuana convictions.

"It essentially repeals the type of sentence given to Jeff Mizanskey," says Viets, referring to the only man in Missouri who is serving a life without parole sentence for marijuana charges.

See also: Meet Jeff Mizanskey, Missouri's Only Inmate Sentenced to Death in Prison for Pot

Viets adds: "I specifically pushed for it to be put in. There's no reason for it. It's an anomaly and it shouldn't be on the books."

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