California has been the center of attention when it comes to marijuana this past week. Proposition 19 failed in statewide balloting and Federal drug officials seized 30 tons of marijuana being trafficked in an underground tunnel according to the Washington Post. The seizure was worth $20 million on the street but the size of the bust wasn’t the only amazing aspect of this marijuana raid.
An underground tunnel about 1,800 feet long connecting Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego, California, was discovered between two warehouses. A Mexican drug cartel furnished the tunnel with lighting, ventilation, and a rail system for transporting the drugs. The tunnel was four feet by three feet and wide enough to crawl through.
Other states taking up marijuana measures in state legislatures may look at this case as a tipping point to either advance or deny less stringent laws on smoking pot. My home state of Missouri has some of the toughest marijuana laws in the United States even though we don’t hear much about local incidents here in Branson.
According to the lobbying group Marijuana Policy Project, Missouri’s laws regarding possession of marijuana are very harsh. For possessing 35 grams or less of the drug, offenders can expect a maximum of one year in jail and $1,000 fine as a misdmeanor.
Over 35 grams, or 1.25 ounces, and you have a felony possession case with a maximum seven year sentence and a $5,000 fine. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) states selling or cultivating plants are all felonies. If you sell over 5 grams of pot you can get five to 15 years in jail and be fined between $5,000 and $20,000.
Jon Gettman, PhD, compiled statistics in his report entitled “Marijuana in Missouri” as part of national project funded by DrugScience.org. Gettman previously served in leadership roles in NORML.
Gettman lists Missouri as number six in the nation for the most severe marijuana laws based upon the first offense. In 2007 there were 21,306 arrests for marijuana possession. Pot accounted for 55 percent of all drug arrests in Missouri that same year.
Missouri’s marijuana arrests accounted for 6.33 percent of total arrests in 2006 and cost law enforcement roughly $154 million. The total budget for law enforcement in 2006 was $2.43 billion.
A bill was introduced into the Missouri House of Representatives which would have made marijuana legal for medical purposes and brought it to a vote of the people. It was sponsored by 17 legislators, a record number, but it never made it out of committee. It remains unclear as to whether the proposal will be reintroduced in 2011.
NORML cited a rally in Joplin where former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson spoke to the 2010 Cannabis Revival urging Missouri to legalize marijuana. Johnson cited drug violence as a main reason for easing marijuana restrictions.
“Lives are lost by disputes being played out with guns instead of in the courts,” Johnson said. “Right now marijuana is looked at as the cause of all evil.”
It seems to me that Missouri, as well as the United States, is nearing a crossroads regarding marijuana. The debate will go on–will legalizing marijuana make our country safer or more dangerous? We may soon find out based upon an increasing number of arrests and murders related to marijuana and drugs.
Flaherty, Mary Pat, “Feds find drug tunnel to Mexico”, Washington Post.
Marijuana Policy Project, “Speaker Richard again shelves medical marijuana bill despite popular support”, MPP.org.
NORML, “Missouri Marijuana Penalties”, NORML.org.
Gettman, John, “Marijuana in Missouri”, DrugScience.org.
Nicolas, Alexandra, “Former New Mexico Governor Pushes for Pot Reform”, Joplin Globe via NORML.org.