JEFFERSON CITY, MO — Missouri State Rep. Rory Ellinger hopes to bring marijuana reform to the state, and plans on introducing marijuana decriminalization and legalization bills once the legislature reconvenes for the 2014 session.
Rep. Ellinger (D-University City) introduced a marijuana decriminalization measure, House Bill 512, in 2013. While the bill didn’t pass, it did advance further than any marijuana reform bill introduced to the state legislature in the past.
Testimony on the decriminalization was heard by the Downsizing State Government Committee on the final day of the legislative session in May, without any possibility that the full House of Representatives would vote on the bill, but activists considered the hearing a step in the right direction.
“Receiving a hearing lends greater credibility to the bill and will likely make more legislators receptive to the idea next year,” says John Payne of Missouri’s Show Me Cannabis. “Political progress often feels almost interminably slow, but make no mistake, we are moving steadily forward.”
Rep. Ellinger says he intends to refile the decriminalization bill in January, and he will also file a separate bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales to adults based on Colorado’s successful 2012 Amendment 64.
Ellinger admits that passing a legalization bill in Missouri will be challenging, but he feels the time is right for the legislature to give his proposals consideration, despite anticipated arguments against marijuana reform from conservative colleagues and law enforcement officials.
“I respect their opinion, but I think that it can all be disputed,” Ellinger says, adding that the decriminalization measure will likely receive consideration, but he doubts lawmakers will be ready to fully legalize cannabis.
“It will have much less chance of passing,” he says, adding that he hopes to at least start the conversation of legalization. “All of this takes time.”
While he is still in the drafting stages of writing the bill, and has not yet worked out the specific details of what will — and won’t — be allowed if the bill were to pass.
“It would make it so that marijuana in small amounts — not large amounts — is not against the law to have,” he says.
Ellinger adds that there is more support for marijuana reform among lawmakers than is generally perceived, with many colleagues privately voicing their support of reform legislation, while not endorsing the bills publicly.
“I have a number of people that come up to me privately and say, ‘I’m really in favor of this.’”
Whether that silent support is carried over to the floor of the state house should the bills come up for a vote is unclear, but if the legislature fails to act, it is highly likely the matter would go before voters in 2016.