COLUMBIA — A low turnout didn't keep Missouri cannabis supporters from discussing marijuana legalization on Friday.
The Show-Me Cannabis Regulation ballot initiative campaign held a signature drive outside the Missouri state Capitol in Jefferson City.
The drive aided the campaign in its goal to obtain 144,000 valid signatures by May 4. The signatures, gathered by about 1,000 unpaid volunteers, are required to qualify the campaign's proposed constitutional amendment. Signatures from six out of nine congressional districts are needed.
The amendment would legalize marijuana use for adults age 21 and older, release prison inmates convicted of nonviolent marijuana crimes and allow for a tax of up to $100 per pound of non-hemp cannabis.
"I personally believe that cannabis prohibition is the greatest failed policy of our time, because there is so much money spent enforcing it with no tangible results," campaign director Amber Langston said.
Echoing Langston's statements were fellow speakers Betty Taylor, a former chief of police from Winfield, and campaign board chairman and Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets.
They addressed their audience from the steps on the south side of the Capitol building, standing below the statue of Thomas Jefferson, whom they referenced as being a hemp farmer himself.
One key point of all three speeches was the idea that law enforcement's time and resources are wasted policing marijuana usage.
"You go into law enforcement to make a difference, and you only enforce the laws that can be enforced," Taylor said. "You cannot eradicate drug activity because it is profitable."
Currently, Columbia law enforcement has misdemeanor marijuana possession cases listed as one of its lower priorities, although felony amounts are given higher priority.
"We need to put people like me out of work," Viets said. "I've spent 25 years seeing people go away for victimless crimes."
Viets called marijuana prohibition a "true evil," and said people will look back on that prohibition with the same horror and disgust that they looked at other prohibitions in the past.
"We're not encouraging you to use, but if you're going to use, use responsibly," Langston said.
About 30 people attended the event, with people coming and going as each speaker took the podium. Langston, however, wasn't fazed by the low turnout.
"I would just as soon have all my petitioners out gathering signatures on this beautiful day than crowded around the capitol," Langston said.
Campaign officials have high hopes that cannabis prohibition will be overturned, if not this November, then at least in years to come. Langston said the concern is about individual liberty, since in a free society, people should be able to decide what they do in their own homes.
"It's about the policy, not the plant," Langston said. "We want even people who hate marijuana to vote 'yes' on this."