Missouri voters probably didn't have this crop in mind when they approved the right to farm amendment.

[imgcontainer] [img:522a1c9881b03.preview-620.jpg] [source]Photo via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch[/source] Missouri voters probably didn't have this crop in mind when they approved the right-to-farm amendment. [/imgcontainer]

Back when the Missouri Legislature put the right to farm on a ballot, it looked like just more of the same, catering to big business and foreign investment at the expense of family farmers. So I and some others opposed it.

“It’s ill defined” we said. “It threatens local control, puts rural communities at risk, places interpretation in the hands of courts and invites all kinds of abuse”.

The other side said we needed the measure because without the right to farm enshrined in Missouri’s Constitution, someday we might all have to toe the mark on Washington DC.’.s excessive demands.

Now it looks as though the state Constitution has gone to pot. Literally.

That’s because when a marijuana farmer in Cole County, Missouri, was busted while allegedly pursuing her right to farm, defense council cited among other things, recently passed Section 35 of our state constitution.

In an editorial, the Columbia (Missouri) News Tribune said that this is what you get when legislators are too lazy to legislate. That’s a pretty good point, especially when the amendment itself wasn’t really authored in Missouri, but outside the state by a conservative group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Is it possible the General Assembly could have inhaled by mistake?

There are all kinds of ways to interpret Missouri’s right to farm. For instance, I love my lawn. For a farmer, there’s nothing more important than farmstead appearance. Keeping a nice looking front yard is part of that. It’s hard, too, what with all the dandelions and sod web worms out there infringing on my right. 

Maybe we need a law?

But growing that kind of grass is nothing compared to the kind folks smoke. It seems to be a real and legitimate science according to legalized cannabis growers in Colorado.

Now let me say at this point that I get high raising corn and soybeans. The science of growing those crops is no less challenging than something like, say, the less than flawless turf in front of my house. But that science pales in comparison to the consumer-driven farming practices of marijuana production.

Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

The whole thing with cannabis is knowing which varieties are best for different ailments they may be used to treat, as a pain reliever, or maybe just for the satisfaction of recreational users. Some farmers grow it inside in a controlled environment, sort of the same way Missouri’s corporate contract farmers raise pigs or chickens. (That’s who proponents of the right-to-farm amendment said it was meant to protect.)

Corn farmers like me settle for photosynthesis a half day at a time, but marijuana farmers even use grow lights 24/7 and add CO2 to the air to make plants develop faster and better.

You could call those legitimate agrarian practices.

Until now, farmers in Missouri haven’t even had the right to grow hemp, the fibrous non-intoxicating cousin of cannabis once used for rope and ships sails, let alone marijuana. That’s mostly because law enforcement was afraid it would be used to conceal illegal production of the kinds of plants considered a drug. But now, thanks to our progressive lawmakers in Jefferson City, that may not be an issue anymore. The right to farm may have cleared away obstacles to hemp production, too. That could be a good thing because many health benefits have been associated with hemp seed and oil, and the plants themselves can be used for cloth, pulp, paper and fuel. Congress even voted in the latest farm bill to fund research on hemp, and president Obama signed it. 

I’m not just blowing smoke.

Some may say that federal law will override fears that cannabis may become Missouri’s newest legal crop. But that hasn’t happened in Colorado or Washington, to name a couple of states where it’s legal now. And it was one of the selling points of right-to-farm proponents who said they feared government overreach and outside interests, like animal welfare groups, who wanted to impose their own moral imperatives on the majority –  and farmers.

A while back, our state joined several others in suing the state of California, where voters passed their own amendment calling for more humane conditions for laying hens and egg production. States like Missouri said California had no right to dictate to farmers how they do their jobs, folks argued.

But a federal judge upheld California’s initiative, refusing to let the other states make hash of their law. So it will be interesting to see what courts say about right to farm in all these contexts. There are no simple solutions. But it looks as though Missouri voters may have unwittingly approved liberalized laws surrounding what was once considered an illegal substance.

It lends a whole new meaning to being high on agriculture.

Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri, and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

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