Right-to-Farm Constitutional Amendment Did Not Create A Constitutional Right to Grow Pot

 

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Image by Neal Wellons of central Missouri farm showing grain bins with a grain trailer in the background.

 

The article is not a substitute for legal advice. 

In 2014, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a new constitutional amendment to protect the right to farm and ranch in the state of Missouri. This amendment is broader protection than the state’s right-to-farm law that just protects an agricultural operation against nuisance lawsuits. But in approving the constitutional amendment did Missouri voters create a new right to grow and cultivate marijuana in Missouri? A few criminal defendants had tried to claim the new constitutional amendment preempted state drug law related to growing marijuana. The Supreme Court of Missouri recently held that the right-to-farm constitutional amendment did not create a new right to grow marijuana in the state (Missouri v. Shanklin).

Facts of Case

The circuit court convicted Mark Shanklin of producing more than five grams of marijuana, possession of more than five grams of marijuana with the intent to distribute, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Mr. Shanklin was caught in his residence when the St. Louis police went to conduct a “utility inquiry.” His electric utility had reported his excessive electricity use to the police because this use was consistent with marijuana cultivation. After consenting to a search, police found 300 live marijuana plants, packaged marijuana, and other materials consistent with packaging and distributing marijuana.

Mr. Shanklin was convicted and appealed his conviction claiming that the conviction for cultivation was unconstitutional. Mr. Shanklin argues that the right-to-farm constitutional amendment makes legal the right to cultivate marijuana.

Constitutional Amendment

In 2014, Missouri voters approved adding the following language to the Missouri Constitution:

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.

Court’s Decision

When a party claims a statute is unconstitutional (here the statute that made

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Image by Mike Senese.  Image shows barn and farm equipment

cultivation of marijuana illegal), a court presumes that the statute is constitutional unless the party can demonstrate that it is precisely and unambiguously goes against a constitutional provision. Here Mr. Shanklin is claiming that the crime of cultivating marijuana is now unconstitutional because the state constitution now protects farming practices.

The court finds that the constitutional amendment based on its language of “agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy”do not create a constitutional right to engage in unregulated agriculture. According to the court, the amendment only protects those farming and ranching practices that are part of the agricultural sector of the state’s economy. The court finds no language in the amendment that suggested state voters were intending to nullify laws that making cultivation of marijuana a crime. In fact, farming and ranching practices protected by the amendment are still subject to state and local regulations.

With all this weighing against Mr. Shanklin’s argument that his conviction is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirms his convictions.

Why Care?

This case marks the first time that a state supreme court in a state with a right-to-farm constitutional amendment, has ruled this issue. Criminal defendants had tried to use the amendment as a defense in cases involving cultivation of marijuana, but trial courts had consistently rejected this claim. The case highlights one of the limits that will be still in place if a state passes a constitutional amendment protecting the right-to-farm.

More interesting challenges may happen in Missouri and North Dakota down the road on traditional agricultural practices that will help us better understand the protected parameters in these states under their right-to-farm constitutional amendments. Until then, we only have decisions rejecting claims the amendment repealed state drug law.

References

Missouri v. Shanklin, No. SC96008, 2017 Westlaw 6011959 (Mo. Dec. 5, 2017).

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