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Does Missouri's new 'Right to Farm' amendment protect marijuana growers? Judge snuffs out argument

Does Missouri's new 'Right to Farm' amendment protect marijuana growers? Judge snuffs out argument

Legalizing Marijuana An Education

This file photo shows one- to two-week-old marijuana starts sit under lights at a growing facility in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A circuit judge has ruled that Missouri’s so-called “Right to Farm” amendment doesn’t allow farming pot.

Gene and Dolores Halbin were charged last year in Bates County — south of Kansas City — for growing marijuana in their basement. Gene Halbin used marijuana to treat a painful form of glaucoma, said Dan Viets, their attorney.

Viets is also the chairman of Show-Me Cannabis, a group that advocates for regulation of marijuana instead of prohibition. He filed a motion to dismiss felony charges against the Halbins based on their rights under the Right to Farm amendment to the Missouri Constitution, which won voter approval in August by a thin margin.

The amendment states, in part, that “the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

Viets argued that the language is broad, but Circuit Judge James Journey wasn’t swayed.

“There is nothing in the Right to Farm amendment that would prohibit the state from enacting or enforcing laws regarding possession or production of controlled substances,” Journey wrote in a June 2 judgment denying Viets’ motion to dismiss.

The judge also wrote that if the state allowed the farming of pot because of the amendment, the “logical extension” would be that farmers could grow poppies for opium, coca for cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms “and a myriad of other botanical organisms to be used in producing illegal substances.”

Journey continued that because Gene Halbin had “marijuana plants growing in his basement and other parts of his house” he was not a farmer, and is not protected by Right to Farm.

“Obviously we disagree with the judge’s decision, but he is the judge, so we have to accept that ruling,” Viets said.

Viets said that moving forward, he and the prosecutor could reach an agreement without the Halbins’ going to trial.

If the cases did go to trial, and the Halbins were found guilty, Viets could appeal to an appellate court. If unsuccessful there, the Missouri Supreme Court could take up the case, he said.

Viets is not the only defense attorney using the Right to Farm argument on behalf of his clients. Justin Carver, a public defender in Jefferson City, made a similar argument in April on behalf of Lisa Loesch, who was also charged with growing pot in her basement.

A motion hearing on that case is scheduled for June 24 in Cole County Circuit Court. Circuit Judge Daniel Green presides over that case.

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