U.S. lawmakers work to legalize marijuana

Published: Feb. 5, 2013 at 3:11 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 5, 2013 at 3:30 AM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Two U.S. lawmakers said they're ready to change federal marijuana laws to make the drug legal.

Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said he will propose a bill Tuesday that would allow states to legalize pot and would require growers to get a federal permit. Democrat Representative Jared Polis of Colorado will propose a bill that would create a federal marijuana excise tax.

It's an issue that excites some to light up legally, but sparks frustration in others.

"I think that's certainly a step in the right direction," said Show-Me Cannabis Executive Director John Payne.

Show-Me Cannabis is an advocacy group for legalization in Missouri.

"I think it's pretty clear under the Constitution that the states should have the power to decide their policies on this matter," said Payne.

The group thinks marijuana should be regulated similar to alcohol.

"If you're a commercial alcohol distributor or producer then you have to get a license you have to follow certain rules but we do allow people to make their own wine, make their own beer at home, so I think if someone wants to have a home grow of a few plants for personal use, I think they shouldn't need to get a license but people that are producing commercially will have large operations then that yeah I think totally reasonable to have a regulatory structure in place and have them licensed and comply with certain regulations," said Payne.

And as for a proposed tax?

"We support a tax," said Payne.

He continued as long as it's a reasonable amount.

"Right now the way we treat cannabis is a complete drag on our economy, it's taking billions of dollars in enforcement that we have to take from taxpayers and not adding anything to federal and state coffers, whereas if we made a legal and regulated tax market then we could have billions of dollars of taxes coming in from the sale of cannabis," said Payne.

While it seems to make sense, Kevin Glaser with the SEMO Drug Task Force said there's more to the story.

"Whatever gain you may initially have by getting additional revenues coming in I think down the line you're going to lose those because of the costs associated with marijuana use," said Glaser.

He said he sees the big money already collected in states where the drug has been made legal, but says the cost outweighs the benefits.

"It's been several million dollars generated in a very brief period of time, but what they don't realize is what are going to the be the long term costs of people being involved with the usage of marijuana," said Glaser.

In states that legalized marijuana for recreational use, Glaser said officers have seen an increase in drivers under the influence in car wrecks.

"They're not drinking, they're smoking but it's still impairing their driving ability," said Glaser.

Darren Cann, Prosecuting Attorney in Mississippi County, said he wouldn't be opposed to the legalization proposal, but feels DUI laws should also change to allow law enforcement to prove someone is under the influence more easily.

Cann said he also thinks there should be a move to regulate and make a weakened version of pot under the marijuana legalization proposal.

Proponents for legalization say it would give law enforcement more time to police serious crimes.

But Glaser said that's not necessarily the case. He said they already put resources towards cracking down on harder drugs, not pot.

"We'll make those cases when they come along, but they're not set as a priority, we put our emphasis on the prescription problem we're faced with, the cocaine, the methamphetamine, and we're starting to see more and more heroin show up in Southeast Missouri, so that's really where we're putting our emphasis now, and it's where we've been putting our emphasis for the past few years," said Glaser.

Paul Boyd, Prosecuting Attorney in Scott County, said marijuana goes hand in hand with a majority of cases involving cocaine or meth since dealers will often times distribute both. He said marijuana is used to come down off the stimulant highs provided by both cocaine and meth, hence the dealer will have both.

He also said decriminilation of one crime may just increase other crimes.

The Representatives are expected to present the full proposals Tuesday.

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