Tuesday, May 5, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing new St. Louis Dispatch article headlined "Does Missouri's 'right to farm' amendment mean you can grow marijuana in the basement?". Here are the details of an interested new state constitutional provision and argument in litigation over marijuana prohibition:
A Missouri woman believes her constitutional right to farm shields her against being prosecuted for allegedly growing a small crop of marijuana in her basement.
Lisa Loesch, 52, of Jefferson City, was charged in 2013 with a felony count of manufacturing and/or distributing a controlled substance. Investigators with the Jefferson City Police Department and a regional drug task force said they found nine healthy, potted marijuana plants under grow lights in her basement in October 2012. “The room was set up with grow lights, a CO2 generator, and pots with potting soil,” police said in court records. “The plants were approximately 1 and ½ to 2 feet in height.”
Loesch’s lawyer, a public defender named Justin Carver, filed a motion April 28 asking for her case’s dismissal. Carver argued that growing marijuana is protected by Missouri’s new farming rights amendment, which voters narrowly passed in an August referendum. Of nearly 1 million votes cast, the amendment passed by a margin of 2,376 votes.
The amendment enshrined the right to farm in the state constitution, saying the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices “shall not be infringed.” It was prompted by rural legislators who said farm culture needed protection from environmentalists and animal-rights activists. Missouri was the second state behind North Dakota to place farming rights in its constitution. “The amendment prohibits the Legislature from declaring what can and cannot be grown in Missouri,” Carver wrote in his motion for dismissal.
Loesch’s lawyer wrote that state laws that prohibit the cultivation of marijuana violate the state and U.S. constitutions and are “vague in that a reasonable person cannot tell and is not given clear notice as to what is prohibited and what is permitted” by law.
The amendment was passed after Loesch was charged. But her attorney says the language of the amendment makes it clear it is not establishing a new right but clarifying an existing right, so it should apply retroactively to Loesch. Loesch pleaded not guilty to the drug charge in February 2013.
This Ballotpedia entry provides background on the "right to farm" provision now in the Missouri constitution, and it reports that the provision reads as follows:
Section 35. That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.
I suspect that defendant Lisa Loesch will have a hard time establishing in this case that she qualifies as a farmer exercising her "right ... to engage in farming and ranching practices" through growing a small crop of marijuana in her basement. That said, I could readily imagine a true family farmer starting to grow a small crop of marijuana plants on his family farm and thereafter asserting in the face of a state prosecution that he was just engaged in a form of Mizzou agriculture designed to provide "food, energy, health benefits and security" for his fellow state citizens.