A court will decide whether Missouri’s right-to-farm amendment guarantees the right to grow pot in your basement.
When voters passed the “right to farm” Constitutional amendment last year, in one of the closest ballot measures in Missouri history, a supporter called it “good news for anyone who eats.”
If a Jefferson City public defender has his way, the amendment could become good news for anyone who tokes.
Justin Carver represents Lisa Loesch, age 52, who was charged in 2013 with one felony count of manufacturing and/or distributing a controlled substance after Jefferson City police found nine marijuana plants growing in her basement.
“The room was set up with grow lights, a CO2 generator, and pots with potting soil,” police noted in court records. “The plants were approximately 1 and ½ to 2 feet in height.”
Loesch pleaded not guilty in 2013, but when Carver recently got hold of her case, he decided to try a new tactic. Carver filed a motion last month arguing that Missouri’s new Constitutional amendment, which guarantees “the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices,” prohibits government officials from restricting what people can grow.
“When [the right-to-farm amendment] passed, the text of the thing was so broad that it was startling,” Carver tells SLM. “It doesn’t provide any ability for the legislature to say you cannot grow this, whether it’s corn or soybeans or something else,” such as marijuana.
The amendment does have one restriction: It is subject to article six of the Constitution, which gives legal authority to Missouri’s cities and counties. According to Carver’s argument, this exempts marijuana from state and federal statutes that make it illegal to grow, sell, and use.
“Effectively, it becomes a zoning issue,” Carver says. Zoning laws already govern local agricultural issues, such as whether city dwellers can keep chicken coops in their back yards.
Carver says this is the first time that anyone has made the legal argument that Missouri’s right-to-farm amendment protects the right to grow marijuana. Because his argument hinges on an interpretation of the Constitution, Carver expects the case to be decided by a higher court or even by the Missouri Supreme Court.
If the court rules against Carver’s motion, the judgement could have ramifications on Missouri farmers.
“Assume for a second that I’m wrong, and the legislature has the right to prohibit someone from growing marijuana,” Carver says. “Could the legislature prohibit someone from growing tobacco? Could the legislature prohibit someone from growing corn?”
Missourians will have to wait to find out. A hearing on Carver’s motion is scheduled for May 13.