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Constitutional rights under discussion at medical marijuana forum

A panel discussed the impact of the legalization of medical marijuana on constitutional rights on at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Columbia Public Library.

Two defense attorneys, as well as a panelist with extensive law enforcement experience, talked about how someone should conduct themselves while interacting with police officers.

The information could also be used for those who don’t use medical marijuana.

Because it’s new and complicated, there are still more questions than answers on how medical marijuana will be implemented. The law lays out pretty specific guidelines, but one uncertainty is how law enforcement will apply the law.

It’s still illegal to have marijuana at all in Missouri. No one has been approved to sell or grow it yet. Part of the forum Wednesday was to inform stakeholders on how to deal with law enforcement that doesn’t know the law or is still learning it.

Defense attorneys Dan Viet and Ben Faber talked about knowing your constitutional rights when approached by an officer who believes you may have marijuana.

They emphasized that law enforcement can’t search someone’s car or home without consent, unless they have a warrant. Someone can verbally tell an officer, “no.”

Legally, you don’t have to even talk to law enforcement, but they recommended being polite about it.

“Our duty as a citizen isn’t to combat the police, or argue with the police, or anything like that,” said Faber. “It’s to remain silent and make the state follow the Constitution by asserting the safeguards that you have.”

While recreational use of marijuana is illegal, prosecutors in St. Louis city, Jackson County and most recently St. Louis County have all announced they will no longer prosecute most low-level marijuana possession cases.

Those who are driving impaired can still be prosecuted, and likely will be when medical marijuana is officially able to be bought and sold in Missouri.

When it comes to medical marijuana, Tom Whitener, a law enforcement officer in Missouri, said authorities will typically get a legislative update on new laws, but may not be aware of what’s changed.

“Make it clear to your police administrators, “Listen, this is the constitution now, these are our rights, and I just want you to be educated about it,'” he said.

On Jan. 3, ABC 17 News reported that the law states the department needed to grant at least 61 cultivation licenses, 87 manufacturing licenses and 192 dispensary licenses. That’s a total of 340 licenses.

If the department received only the base amount of fees for the number of applications it must grant, almost $2.3 million will go to the department.

The Department of Health and Senior Services has begun accepting pre-application fees for those who want to get into the business. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 350 applications have been accepted, which equares to more than $2.5 million.

Watch a live stream of the event in the video player below.

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