Missouri lawmakers debate legalizing marijuana - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Missouri lawmakers debate legalizing marijuana

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KCTV) -

For the first time in Missouri's history, a legislative committee is hearing testimony on a recreational marijuana bill.

Rep. Chris Kelly, a Democrat from Columbia, sponsored the bill, which would impose a 25 percent tax. He also proposes restricting the purchase, possession and use of the drug to those at least 21 years old.

"Sponsoring the bill is not an endorsement of the use of marijuana. A lot of things should be legal which I don't condone. I'm saying I don't want to waste taxpayer dollars," Kelly said.

Kelly believes the state wastes billions of dollars a year prosecuting a crime that is what he calls "unenforceable."

"I want people to distinguish between the concept that smoking marijuana as a recreational use as a good idea and whether it should be illegal. Whether their tax dollars should go into an unenforceable law," Kelly said.

Colorado just announced that it reaped an additional $2 million in revenues as a result of legal marijuana sales in January.

The bill was debated in the House's Public Safety Committee on Monday. The committee didn't take any action.

Opponents in Missouri argue the dangers outweigh the potential $100 million in revenue earned from the drug.

"Marijuana is much more dangerous than alcohol. This marijuana we're seeing in the United States at the current time with THC levels at 20 percent," said Sgt. Jason Grellner, vice president of the National Narcotics Association Coalition.

Grellner says there's been an increase in fatal crashes involving drivers under the influence of marijuana in Colorado from 2007-2011.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation,  the increase went from 7.5 percent in 2011 up to 17.3 percent in 2011 of drivers testing positive for cannabis in fatal car crashes.

That is compared to 17.9 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2011 when it comes to drivers in fatal car crashes who tested over the legal limit for alcohol.

Grellner also competes with Kelly's idea that taxing and regulating the drug would save tax dollars.

"We are spending more money right now already on a regulated item on alcohol and resources from law enforcement than we do on marijuana," Grellner said.

Amber Langston with Show-Me Cannabis, a pro-legalizing marijuana group, says House Bill 1659 is groundbreaking for the state.

"Here in Missouri, this is a first. We've never had a tax-and-regulate marijuana initiative put before the General Assembly," Langston said.

Kelly expects, at best, fellow legislators will reduce the bill down to a medical marijuana law in which users will have to obtain a prescription. He also said he would like to see the voters consider the issue.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, recently left the door open to medical marijuana sales in the Show-Me State.

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