JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Citing recent poll numbers showing support for legalization in Missouri at less than 50%, combined with a low anticipated voter turnout in November, activists in Missouri have announced that they will wait until the 2016 presidential election to attempt to place a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot.
A recent poll commissioned by Show-Me Cannabis, who had over a dozen different marijuana legalization initiatives approved for signature gathering for the November 2014 elections, found that only 45 percent of likely voters this year support marijuana legalization.
With no Senate seats up for grabs and no gubernatorial race in this year’s election, a very low voter turnout is expected. The only statewide office up for a vote in November is state auditor, which is not expected to drive many people to vote.
As in most states, many of the demographic groups who tend to support marijuana legalization, such as voters under 35 and non-affiliated independent voters, are unlikely to vote in midterm elections. Those demographic groups who are likely to vote in November are more likely to oppose marijuana legalization, especially voters over 65 who are anticipated to make up the majority of the voter turnout this year.
When voters who are likely to vote in 2016, but not in 2014, were included in the polling analysis, support for marijuana legalization grew to 52 percent.
Instead of wasting resources on futile efforts to place marijuana legalization on the ballot this year, activists from Show-Me Cannabis say they will continue to build statewide support for marijuana legalization among voters, as well as lobby lawmakers in Jefferson City to consider several marijuana reform bills pending at the legislature.
“I believe there is a good chance that the legislature will vote to reduce penalties on cannabis possession this year,” says John Payne of Show-Me Cannabis.
Several marijuana reform bills are currently being considered by lawmakers. Among them, House Bill 1659 would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana by adults, similar to Colorado’s recreational pot law.
Law makers are also considering House Bill 1324, which would allow medical marijuana in the state, and House Bill 1325, which would eliminate the possibility of a jail sentence for possession of small amounts of marijuana and encourages the Courts specifically to substitute community service work, drug counseling and other more constructive alternatives.
Currently, Missouri has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country. Possession of any amount of marijuana — even as little as a gram — can be punished by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine under state law.
Possession of over 35 grams — about 1.25 ounces — is a felony subject to a prison sentence of up to seven years and a $5,000 fine.
Last year, two bills that would have relaxed Missouri’s marijuana laws died in committee without getting a vote. Neither of those bills advanced during the 2013 session, largely due to the efforts of Missouri Speaker of the House, Rep. Timothy Jones, who prevented the bills from moving forward.