The Quest For Legal Pot In Missouri: Exclusive Interview With Show-Me Cannabis Executive Director John Payne

Recreational marijuana officially became legal in Alaska today, joining Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, as the four states (and also Washington, D.C.) to legalize the plant for recreational use. The media is now focusing its attention on other states that are eyeing legalizing recreational pot for the 2016 ballot.

One state that is being overlooked in that discussion is Missouri. High Times doesn't even list the Show-Me State as a possible contender for 2016, while Salon writer Phillip Smith calls Missouri's 2016 legalization efforts a "dark horse."

John Payne, Executive Director of Show-Me Cannabis, would like to see Missouri be taken seriously in the 2016 marijuana legalization discussion. The Inquisitr recently spoke with Mr. Payne to get an idea of the future of legal, recreational pot in the Show-Me State.

Show-Me Cannabis logo
Show-Me Cannabis logo

What Are Show-Me Cannabis' Goals?

John Payne: "Show-Me Cannabis' overarching goal is to legalize and regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. However, we also have a number of intermediate goals, such as passing industrial hemp and medical cannabis legislation."

In some ways, Missouri is a something of a study in contrasts, as far as politics. Until 2012, according to Slate, it was considered a battleground state, where Democrats could count on votes from unions, progressives, and minorities in the state's urbanized areas of Kansas City and Saint Louis; and Republicans could count on the socially conservative vote from the state's rural center.

However, since 2012, Missouri has become more consistently, reliably red. And Missouri's pot laws are some of the harshest in the country. Consider, for example, the case of Jeff Mizanskey.

What Can You Tell Me About Jeff Mizanskey?

John Payne: "Jeff Mizanskey is a man from Sedalia, Missouri, who is serving a life without parole sentence for a non-violent, cannabis-only offense. The offense was his third (all purely for cannabis), and that allowed the prosecutor to invoke Missouri's recently passed prior and persistent drug offender statute. That statute required that whatever sentence was handed down by the court be imposed without probation or parole."

Jeff Mizanskey, who is serving life in a Missouri prison for a non-violent pot offense.
Jeff Mizanskey, who is serving life in a Missouri prison for a non-violent pot offense.
"Jeff has spent the last 21 years in prison, and the prior and persistent drug offender statute has since been repealed by the state legislature. The governor recently committed to review Jeff's case, and a Republican state representative introduced a bill that would free him."
Freeing Jeff Mizanskey is a starting point in getting the Show-Me State to scale back its pot laws, but Show-Me Cannabis has its eyes on a larger goal: legal, recreational pot, on the ballot for the Missouri voters to vote on in 2016.

What Needs To Happen In Order To Get Recreational Pot Legalization In Missouri On The 2016 Ballot?

John Payne: "First, we would need to gather nearly 160,000 signatures from registered Missouri voters to place the measure on the ballot. Then, a majority of Missouri voters would need to support it at the ballot box in November 2016. "

As of this post, Show-Me Cannabis hasn't yet started collecting those signatures; in fact, getting them may not be a foregone conclusion.

"That sounds relatively simple, but it would likely require at least $5 million to make it possible. About $1 million would be devoted to signature gathering and $4 million to public outreach such as town hall meetings and media buys."
Fortunately for legalization advocates, Missouri's conservative legislature won't be able to stand in the way, "Once the signatures are collected and verified by the Secretary of State, the initiative goes to the ballot. The legislature is totally removed from the equation."

In other words, whether recreational pot legalization happens in Missouri in 2016 is strictly up to Missouri voters.

Looking To 2016

Show-Me Cannabis' efforts to put recreational marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2014 failed, for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with polling numbers that were less than encouraging, according to Missouri Criminal Defense Lawyers.

However, 2016 may offer some hope. Being a presidential election year, more voters are likely to turn out at the polls than in a mid-term election - and voters are more likely to pay attention to the issues.

Further, with four states now having legalized recreational pot, and national polling data indicating that the country is warming up to legalized pot, Missouri's day may come.

The deadline for Show-Me Cannabis to get the 160,000 signatures necessary for a recreational marijuana ballot initiative is May, 2016.

[Images courtesy of: Missouri Criminal Defense Lawyers, Weedist, Riverfront Times]