Below is testimony in support of Missouri House Bill 512. There are some excellent talking points in the testimony that are widely applicable, even outside of Missouri:
By John Payne
Hello, my name is John Payne, and I am the executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, an organization that advocates for the reform of Missouri’s marijuana laws. I would like to begin by thanking Chairman Curtman, Vice Chair Kelley, and all members of this committee for taking the time to consider this important issue, even at the very end of the legislative session.
I would also like to express how appropriate I believe it is that this bill is being heard by the Downsizing State Government Committee. A state’s police powers are its most fundamental but also the most dangerous when the government oversteps its bounds. In a free society, the government’s police powers should be limited to protecting the life, liberty, and property of its citizens.
Unfortunately, in Missouri, state and local governments arrest nearly 20,000 citizens every year for the possession of small amounts of cannabis. If convicted of the charge, these unfortunate individuals face possible jail time and will live the remainder of their lives as criminals in the eyes’ of the state of Missouri. This punishment is both overly punitive to those arrested and a tremendous misuse of law enforcement resources.
Government programs – including law enforcement – are not immune to the fundamental economic principle of scarcity. Every minute that a police officer spends arresting someone for the possession of marijuana is a minute that they are not pursuing a stolen car, protecting a home against burglary, or investigating a rape. Those are not purely hypothetical examples. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, 16,282 motor vehicles were reported stolen in Missouri in 2012, but only 1,774 arrests were made for the offense. 42,369 homes were burglarized with only 5,934 arrests. 1,394 forcible rapes and 116 attempted rapes were reported, but only 367 arrests were made.
How can we justify even a single arrest for the possession of marijuana – let alone 20,000 of them – when no arrest is made in over three quarters of all reported rapes? The state of Missouri should use its police powers to protect its citizens and their property, and our harsh laws against cannabis are an impediment to that goal.
Moreover, arresting people for possession of marijuana fails the most basic test of efficacy. Presumably, the goal of arresting, jailing and branding marijuana users as criminals for the rest of their lives is to prevent marijuana use. There is no evidence that such punishments result in that outcome, however. According to a 1981 study on decriminalization’s impact on youth commissioned as part of the federal government’s Monitoring the Future program, “decriminalization of marijuana had virtually no effect either on use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use…”
Missouri taxpayers pay dearly for this policy that has thoroughly failed to achieve its goals. According to a study by Harvard economist and senior fellow at the Cato Institute Jeffrey Miron, Missouri’s state and local governments spend nearly $50 million every year to make all those arrests for possession of marijuana.
Our current policy is big government at its worst, and that is why many Republicans and conservatives are speaking out against it. I have with me today a statement supporting this bill, which has been endorsed by numerous Republican committeemen and women from across the state.
This bill will allow us to reduce government spending while simultaneously making our citizens freer and safer. I hope the people of Missouri can count on your support for this commonsense reform. Thank you.
If you appreciate all the work we have done to advance cannabis law reforms this year, please contribute now!