"Very seldom do we make just a marijuana arrest," Thayer Police Chief David Bailey said Nov. 18.
Instead, when a suspect lands in the Thayer City Jail on marijuana possession charges, they usually have committed other crimes, or the marijuana was discovered during a traffic stop, Bailey said.
On Nov. 7, the secretary of state's office approved two initiative petitions for circulation, one to amend the Missouri Constitution and the other to enact a state law to legalize cannabis for people age 21 and older. If enough signatures are garnered, the issue could be on the November 2012 ballot.
Both petition requests were submitted by Columbia attorney Dan Viets, who was quoted in an online news story as saying it is "insane to put otherwise law-abiding people in jail for using, growing or selling marijuana. The pot smokers tend to not bother anybody."
The petitions also ask that doctors be allowed to recommend use of medicinal marijuana, that prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses related to cannabis be released and that the state be allowed to enact a marijuana tax of up to $100 per pound.
According to an online CNN Money article, Missouri could potentially collect $15,600,000 in tax revenue per year if marijuana was legalized and taxed. So far, 14 states have decriminalized cannabis and 17, including Washington, D.C., have medicinal marijuana programs.
In June, a bill to fully legalize marijuana was introduced in the U.S. House by Republican Ron Paul of Texas and Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts to remove cannabis from the controlled substance list.
Some legislators have said prohibition just does not work, with the federal government spending $14 billion annually to prohibit marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project on Capitol Hill.
Oregon County Chief Deputy Eric King, who was part of a successful local effort last month to track down the grower of several marijuana plants in Rover, agreed with Bailey that most marijuana offenders are in jail for additional crimes.
One exception is during summer when vacationers take to the Eleven Point River. County deputies patrolling the river have cited suspects for marijuana possession alone, he said.
"We usually write several tickets on the Eleven Point," King said.
From 1999-2002, the county has averaged 65 drug arrests each summer. Some of those arrests involved other crimes, but not all.
If the law is changed to legalize marijuana, area jails could free up some jail space, which has been a concern for Thayer and the county. Two years ago, Thayer voters approved a law enforcement tax proposed, in part, to eventually build a new jail. No plans are in the works to build one.
Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood said he is considering a similar sales tax issue for the county. The six-bed county jail is currently housed on the third floor of the 75-year-old courthouse in Alton.
King said his biggest concerns with the proposed legislation center on marijuana users driving impaired and those under age using the drug.
Before the issue can be placed on the ballot, signatures of registered voters equal to 8 percent of votes cast in the 2008 governor's election from six of the state's nine congressional districts must be obtained. Signed petitions are due to the Secretary of State's office by May 6, 2012.