COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Proponents of reforming Missouri's marijuana laws are weighing goals, methods and chances of success as they consider a renewed push to decriminalize or even legalize possession of the drug.
Columbia and St. Louis have both adopted so-called decriminalization ordinances, reducing a first-time offense for possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana to a low-level misdemeanor similar to a traffic ticket. Instead of being arrested, offenders in those cities get a summons to appear in court and face a fine rather than jail.
But the crowd that packed a forum Thursday at the Columbia Public Library clearly favored legalization, even if Democratic state Rep. Chris Kelly - a leading proponent of reform - wasn't sure the time is right, the Columbia Missourian reported (http://bit.ly/1ew5jjx).
"Does it make sense to do it now?" Kelly asked, saying he wanted to see the organizational support for such an effort.
The crowd responded by breaking into cheers and applause.
Organizational support is key because a large corps of volunteers would be needed to lobby the Legislature to pass a bill or to get enough signatures to put a pro-marijuana question on a statewide ballot.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has been cool to proposals to ease marijuana-related penalties.
A decriminalization bill sponsored this year by Democratic Rep. Rory Ellinger, of University City, did not get a hearing until the final day of the regular session.
But Ellinger told the Columbia forum that even getting a hearing was progress.
"It's extremely important that we reach across the table and that we don't call names," Ellinger said. "We must have Republican sponsorship no matter what we come up with. It's very important."
Kelly told The Missourian in a separate interview last week he was "thinking very seriously" about introducing legislation next year to legalize and regulate marijuana in the state.
But he would only do so, he said, if he were certain that advocates of legalization were ready to stage a forceful public campaign - in case the Legislature decides on its own to put the question on a statewide ballot.