To avoid going to jail, Mark Shanklin from St. Louis needs to persuade the Missouri Supreme Court that voters in the state approved a farming-friendly constitutional amendment with the express intent of legalizing the cultivation of marijuana back in 2014 already. Forgetting for now the question of whether he will succeed or not, he argues in court on November 7, his case raises an important hypothetical.
What would happen to Shanklin if, somehow, Missouri legalized cannabis? In this parallel state, Shanklin and others like him would not go to jail for having a few pot plants. Distinctive marijuana leaves and hemp stalks would poke their heads between fields of corn and soybean, and perhaps even replace them. Taxpayers would not have to pay for his arrest, incarceration, and everything between.
If pot were legal in Missouri, law enforcement would have more resources available to them to fight serious crimes, as law officials and prosecutors would be more productive than locking up weed tokers and pot growers. Last year, approximately nine percent of all arrests in Missouri were a direct result of the state’s prohibitionist laws against marijuana.
In 2016, the Missouri State Highway Patrol reports roughly 1,200 arrests for growing or selling weed throughout the state, including 25 in Green County. Yet, the Department of Corrections says that it is unclear exactly how many inmates are in jail for the same offense as Shanklin. A spokesperson said, “We cannot say for sure how many people are in the DOC system specifically for growing marijuana.”
This is because sentencing records for those found guilty of manufacturing controlled substances in Missouri have no drug type specifications. Information the corrections department provided shows that out of 6,796 inmates, 183 are there for marijuana-related crimes, although the overwhelming majority of them, 5,564 to be exact, have no drug-type modifier.
The department spokesperson said that this “makes it difficult to paint a clear picture.” He explained by saying, “Oftentimes, the sentence and judgement reports received from the court do not discuss the specific details of the crime. Therefore, we do not have the data we can aggregate.” There would be other major differences in this hypothetical Missouri too.
Back in 2012, a Harvard economist conducted a study that found legalizing cannabis would save Missouri about $90 million. It would also add approximately $59 million every year to state coffers if taxed like cigarettes and beer. Commissioned by a marijuana advocacy group for simplicity of analysis, the study assumed the unlikely scenario that cannabis was legal nationwide.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture claims that the forestry and agriculture sectors generated $6.2 billion in revenues for the government and created approximately 380,000 jobs just in 2016. In Greene County last year, sales generated roughly $3.4 billion and agriculture-related activities secured 12,600 jobs. The economic potential of legalization is huge.
The Colorado and California economies have been raking in revenues in the billions ever since they chose to legalize weed, and consumers in Springfield, where the substance is illegal, have their local market saturated with much higher quality pot from the west. Another factor to think about in this hypothetical state is the impact that cannabis farming will have on the environment.
A study conducted in 2016 examined marijuana production sites in Northern California, noting, “The amount of land and water used for growing cannabis has not traditionally been a concern” when compared with other farming activities. Researchers at Ithaca College, on the other hand, say, “But where the cannabis is grown has potential ecological consequences.”
The researchers noted that cultivating cannabis could increase the likelihood and potential for chemical run-off and soil erosion, which would endanger fish species in the process. Elaborate water systems are unnecessary if grown indoors, but according several scientific studies, indoor grow operations require a great deal more energy consumption.
Researchers from Colorado State University say that its burgeoning pot culture could influence local brewing there. The state is attracting young people in droves to its craft beer and legal marijuana industries. Since hops is the only relative cannabis has in Colorado, “hops is the plant species that faces the greatest potential crossover threat from any of the cannabis specialist insects,” and vice versa.
Even so, the researchers added that cannabis “poses no unique threat” to any other sectors of agriculture. The fairest comparison to a hypothetically pot-friendly Missouri, where large-scale farming, not houseplants like Shanklin’s, could resemble the future cultivation operations sprouting in northern Arkansas, where medical marijuana became legal in November by public vote.
It is not clear exactly how much study, if any, Missouri has undertaken into what a potential legal cannabis market could mean for the state. Spokespeople from both the Office of Administration and the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources departments are unaware of any studies about the potential impact of legalizing pot production on Missouri.
Spokespersons for the departments of Health and Senior Services, Public Safety, and Economic Development did not immediately return messages for comment. From the Ithaca College study, we get both a warning and an explanation for the lack of reading material available: “Land-use science on cannabis agriculture lags behind research on other crops.”
“But,” it continues, “Advances in the field will be crucial for predicting future cannabis expansion and moderating its impacts.” Besides Shanklin’s challenge to the court, at least three other, separate, efforts are trying to get medical marijuana legalized in Missouri in some form or other in 2018. Better Way Missouri, a pro-pot group, is petitioning the Missouri General Assembly directly for reform.
Specifically, this group wants the state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, as well as the cultivation of hemp on an industrial scale. New Approach Missouri, another advocacy group, says that its initiative is gaining steam. The group already has about a quarter of the signatures required to get it on the November ballot next year.
This particular initiative proposes adding a four percent tax to medical marijuana to help veterans in the state. It also includes a provision that would allow qualified patients to cultivate up to six pot plants at home for medical use. If that is not enough, attorney-physician from Springfield, Brad Bradshaw, is funding an amendment of his own.
Bradshaw’s initiative is already past the halfway point with well over 100,000 signatures. It will very likely find its way onto next year’s ballot. The Bradshaw amendment legalizes the use of medical pot, provides for a “Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute,” and puts Bradshaw in a temporary but immediate position of leadership.