Last Session there was a bill filed which sought to decriminalize marijuana usage and possession. Basically, that bill proposed to reduce the punishment for those caught with small amounts of marijuana in their possession. It died in committee, but the bill will be re-introduced this year along with another bill that will seek to legalize the drug in Missouri. The proposed legislation will be modeled after Colorado’s recently passed Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, also known as Amendment 64. Washington State passed similar legislation in 2012. So far, Colorado and Washington are the only states that have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. In anticipation of retail stores opening to sell the drug in these two states in January of 2014, many recreational users are flocking to those areas. Their new law restricts personal use of marijuana to adults 21 and older, as well as regulating the commercial cultivation, manufacturing and sale of the drug. It effectively seeks to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to the way alcohol has been regulated in the United States.
Though federal law still states that marijuana is an illegal drug in the United States, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that federal authorities will no longer interfere with states as they adopt laws to allow for medical use of marijuana or legalize the drug entirely. This announcement was an answer to the question as to whether the Justice Department would sue to preempt state law or to take criminal action against those states that passed laws to legalize the drug. Federal authorities are saying that this action allows for the will of the voters to decide. This is a significant shift in federal marijuana policies, as well as providing a clear path for other states to legalize the drug. Currently, there are twenty states considering laws that would decriminalize, legalize, or approve the drug for medical use.
Two recent national polls, one by the PEW Research Center in March of 2013 and the other by the Public Policy Polling group, showed a majority of Americans currently favor the legalization of marijuana by a margin of fifty-three to forty-six percent. With the pendulum swinging to the side of legalization, some Missouri lawmakers believe now is the time to introduce legislation in our state. However, most analysts believe the only way legalization of marijuana could pass in Missouri would be by a petition initiative placed before voters, and then it would be difficult, as most Missourians are still opposed to its legalization. Personally, I cannot support the legalization of marijuana because I believe it to be potentially detrimental for our state and could help send our American society even further down an unwanted slippery slope.
One of the greatest worries that comes with the legalization of marijuana is the possibility that usage of the drug will drastically increase. Some say it could increase by as much as three times the current rate. Furthermore, easy access, along with the belief that marijuana is not a dangerous drug and is safer to use than alcohol could help increase usage. Compared to harder drugs like cocaine, heroin, or meth, marijuana is considered by many supporters of legalization to be a “soft drug,” and supposedly less addictive and less harmful. However, according to some authorities, marijuana usage may be a stepping stone to harder and more addictive drugs.
Legalization of marijuana could potentially hurt young people the most. In Missouri, it is reported that the average age of a first time user is just over 13 years old. Nearly 20% of all young people say they have smoked marijuana in the last 30 days.
No matter one’s stance on the issue of legalization of marijuana, these figures about usage by children have to be disturbing—to say the least—and they need to be considered if or when legalization legislation is again proposed in our state.