A bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri is now being considered by a state house panel.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, would allow anyone over the age of 21 to use, grow and sell marijuana legally. It would also impose a 25 percent tax on pot, as well as set up a system of state licensing for growers and sellers.
Under the system, each county would be allowed to have one retailer for every 2,500 people. If passed, St. Louis County could have 400 retailers, while 127 would be allowed in the city.
The bill would also allow pot users without a license to keep and transport a pound of marijuana, a pound of hashish and more than a half-gallon of hashish oil.
Kelly, a former Boone County judge, said he was against legalizing marijuana use until he changed his mind after serving on the bench.
“I saw too many young people whose lives were ruined by using small amounts of marijuana,” said Kelly.
He adds making pot legal would save government money, while stopping what he called ineffective regulation.
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A preliminary estimate shows that the excise tax will generate more than $200 million in revenue per year once fully implemented in 2016. The money would be divided between pensions for law enforcement officers, education, mental health, substance abuse programs and local governments.
Kelly added that he did not condone marijuana use or advocate for it. But he said the inefficient management of the drug means legalization could save money and stop ineffective government regulation.
Kelly’s proposal already has its fair share of opponents, namely Republicans on the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee who worry legalizing marijuana would make it more attractive to use.
“What I fear is that if we do decriminalize this we are going to make it attractive,” said Rep. Galen Higdon, R-St. Joseph, a former sheriff’s deputy. “I do not want to bring anything else that is going to create a negative impact on our young children.”
While skeptical of overall legalization, committee members were more open to discussion approval of medical marijuana use, which would also be allowed under the bill.
Some parts of Missouri aren’t waiting for lawmakers to change the state’s drug policy.
Columbia and St. Louis have both adopted so-called decriminalization ordinances, reducing a first-time offense for possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana to a low-level misdemeanor similar to a traffic ticket. Instead of being arrested, offenders in those cities get a summons to appear in court and face a fine rather than jail.
Supporters said they would also pursue the initiative petition process during the 2016 election cycle.
The committee on Monday offered no timetable for further action.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said last month he could see legislators considering medicinal marijuana but a move beyond would be “a bridge too far.”
Missouri would join Washington and Colorado as the only states to legalize recreational marijuana use. Colorado began allowing commercial sales on Jan. 1, and imposes a 15 percent tax on retail buys.