In 2018, Missourians overwhelmingly voted to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This is an important step for the state and will more than likely result in better treatment for many of our friends and neighbors who need to relieve pain, manage nausea and weight loss, and treat glaucoma, among other things.

Next door, Illinois has fully legalized recreational use of marijuana, and Missouri’s legislature is putting a significant amount of its resources into criminal justice reform. These actions cause us to wonder how we can begin to meet the expectations that Governor Parson set during his State of the State address in January when he said that he did not want to open any new prisons and instead wanted to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals in Missouri. This is a laudable and practical goal, since Missouri spends about $60 per day per incarcerated individual. With 28,383 people currently incarcerated, this amounts to about $659,184,405 over the last twelve months.

How can we promote smart sentencing in Missouri in order to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, ease some of the demands our penal system imposes on the state budget, and attain better long-term outcomes?

One of the best laboratories for statewide reform are steps being taken at the municipal level. When local reform is implemented and proven effective, it can serve as a scalable model for the entire state.

When asked about his position on marijuana reform, Quinton Lucas, the Mayor-elect of Kansas City, said that he will use his executive pardon power to “pardon everyone who’s been charged under a municipal marijuana possession offense.” On the eastern side of the state, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner has said that her office would no longer pursue some cases for possession under 100 grams.

Under these two proposals, there could be a significant drop in the amount of non-violent individuals who become a part of our judicial system, which currently has an alarmingly high recidivism rate of 60%. This means that well over half of the people who are jailed once will be jailed again after they’re released. This is an unhealthy and unsustainable model that has led our prisons to be over capacity for the last 5 years. Felony possession of a controlled substance, which includes marijuana, is the #1 reason that individuals are locked up. Something has to change.

~ Read the full story in today’s Journal ~