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Columbia Missourian

DAVID ROSMAN: Legalizing marijuana is a mixed bag for Missouri

By David Rosman
February 12, 2014 | 2:58 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — OK, the cat is out of the bag.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state, we are seeing the movement come east with bills introduced by state Rep. Rory Ellinger’s, D-Union City (HB1324 and HB1325), and Rep. Chris Kelly’s, D-Columbia (HB1659).

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Each is seeking major changes to the laws in the Show-Me State as it concerns cannabis.

Ellinger’s two proposals deal with the medical use of marijuana and the possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana. For those of us who are not familiar with the metric system, that is about 1.25 ounces. His bills would also remove the penalties for the possession of medical marijuana and doctors prescribing the drug for medical use.

HB 1324 and 1325 would bring Missouri into the fold of 20 other states and the District of Columbia that already permit medical use of marijuana. I can see where marijuana would help my father through his cancer with less pain and an increase in appetite. Additionally, both bills must be passed to have this happen.

HB 1659 goes much further. It includes the liquid form of marijuana and hashish and would permit an individual to possess up to 72 ounces of the drug. That is 4.5 pounds or just over two kilos of the liquid form.

I am not against the legalization of marijuana, considering the 25 percent tax being proposed by Kelly in his bill. Colorado expects $100 million in marijuana tax revenue to be added to the state coffers in the first 12 months. January alone brought in $1 million to $3 million based on a 25 percent tax levy.

Here is where I become confused. The people seeking legalization of marijuana, in many cases, are the same people who supported the anti-smoking campaigns and ordinances in Columbia and Jefferson City.

The University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute reports that: “(W)hen smoking marijuana compared to tobacco, there is a prolonged and deeper inhalation and it is smoked to a shorter butt length and at a higher combustion temperature. This results in approximately 5 times the carbon monoxide concentration, 3 times the tar, and the retention of one-third more tar in the respiratory tract.”

So why legalize the drug if the harmful effects are greater than those of tobacco?

The reason is simple. We lost the “war on drugs” decades ago. The fight against  marijuana has caused an increase in persons incarcerated on what should be minor crimes and disproportional conviction rates concerning the use of this “recreational” drug.

This is not to say there should be legislation to legalize heroin, crack and cocaine. Marijuana, like tobacco and alcohol, is addictive, but in and of itself, not immediately life threatening. Yes, one could die from driving under the influence, from the resulting lung cancer or liver disease, but overdosing on cannabis is not very likely.

Additionally, the tax revenue would be a boon for Missouri’s economy. To increase the state revenue by 10 percent to 15 percent would mean the proper funding for the Department of Transportation, as well as K-12 and post-secondary education, in our fair state.

Even if the proposals would be for the medical use of marijuana alone, the benefits received would be enjoyed by all.

Kelly’s bill is long and complicated, but, for the most part, it removes marijuana from the current laws and replacing those statutes with Section 195.850, et al, which has its own restrictions.

In this proposal, you must be 21 and a citizen to possess, manufacture or sell cannabis. The bill would prohibit the operation of vehicles, watercraft, aircraft and other forms of transportation while under the influence and requires a license to sell or manufacture marijuana or hashish.

Are HB 1324, 1325 and 1659 good for Missouri? That answer is yes and no.

Yes in the form of increased tax revenue and the decriminalizing of a true recreational drug. I also see the legitimate use of marijuana as a pain controller and a drug to help increase appetite.

No, because of the possible increase in illness because of the effects of the increase of tar and other carcinogens.

I still need to weigh the facts and make up my mind on these proposals. However, I can see Missouri as the 21st state with a medical marijuana law.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.