Why I’m Fighting for Marijuana Decriminalization
By Rep. Shamed Dogan | Missouri House of Representatives
I have long been an outspoken critic of our country’s failed War on Drugs. It is primarily a war on marijuana compared to much more harmful drugs. It is overwhelmingly focused on arresting and incarcerating nonviolent drug users and addicts instead of drug traffickers who engage in violence. And it has harmed millions of families by incarcerating far too many people for far too long.
A review of Missouri’s recent history has only confirmed my viewpoint and strengthened my determination to change our unjust marijuana laws. In 2016, the last year before the criminal code revision took effect, about 9% of all arrests in Missouri (21,277) were for the possession of marijuana. 1,185 arrests were for the sale or manufacturing of marijuana, or 5% of all marijuana-related arrests. The expectation was that with reduced penalties and a changing attitude towards marijuana even among police and prosecutors, those arrests would likely decrease. However, in the ensuing years, marijuana possession arrests have remained at 9% of all arrests, with 21,574 in 2017 and 21,638 in 2018. Arrests for the sale or manufacturing of marijuana remained at less than 5% of total marijuana-related arrests, with 1009 in 2017 and 1247 in 2018.
Possession arrests far outweigh arrests for sales across all categories of drugs, including cocaine and opiates. In both 2017 and 2018, possession arrests made up 93% of all drug-related arrests. Marijuana possession arrests alone made up over half of all drug-related arrests. Furthermore, in the midst of the opioid epidemic which killed over 1,000 Missourians in 2017, less than 400 arrests were made in 2017 and 2018 for the sale of heroin, cocaine, and other opiates. More than 7 times as many arrests were made in both years for the possession of those drugs.
In terms of racial disparities, African-Americans represent 10.9% of the total population but made up 27.75% of marijuana possession arrests in 2018. African-Americans were therefore arrested at a rate 155% greater than expected based solely on their proportion of the population. Accounting for their respective proportions of Missouri’s population, African-Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at a rate 193% higher than Whites. Overall, African-Americans made up 22.92 of all drug arrests in 2018, meaning they were arrested at a rate 110% greater than expected based solely on their proportion of the population. This despite extensive research showing that blacks and whites use marijuana and other drugs at similar rates.
All of this data screams for a need for Missouri to overhaul our War on Drugs. Law enforcement resources should be redirected towards arresting and prosecuting violent drug traffickers, not drug users or low-level dealers. We should be worried about the most dangerous and addictive drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and meth, and not about marijuana. And we should make sure that the laws are enforced in a racially neutral manner.
Missouri should pass legislation like my HB 1095, which would decriminalize the possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana. The state should also wholeheartedly embrace the medical marijuana industry and allow our farmers to cultivate medical marijuana with legislation like my HB 1096. There is no reason Missouri shouldn’t be at the forefront of the intersection between agriculture, our state’s largest industry, and scientific research into the benefits of medical marijuana. These are all small but necessary steps towards a more sensible approach on marijuana policy.