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There was a time not too long ago when holding a town hall meeting on reforming marijuana laws held at East Central College would be incomprehensible. 

Not any more.

Show-Me Cannabis, an organization that advocates for reforms of marijuana policy, including decriminalization, is sponsoring a panel discussion at the college Tuesday evening.  

Some of the group’s members are police officers. They argue that regulating pot in a manner similar to alcohol would better control the production, distribution and consumption of the drug than the current criminal market system does. 

Tuesday’s meeting in our conservative county is a pretty clear sign of just how far the marijuana movement has come in the last few years. 

We should point out that the college is simply hosting the meeting — it takes no position one way or the other on this issue. But a meeting like this probably would not have happened 10 years ago. It would have been deemed too radical. Today, we doubt if it even raises an eyebrow.  

Our country is rethinking marijuana. Attitudes are shifting. Surveys show the majority of Americans favor a softer stance on the drug. 

Stephen Gutwillig, deputy executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, another marijuana advocacy group, put it this way: 

“Marijuana legalization has gone from an abstract concept to a mainstream issue to a political reality within a three-year period.” 

Pot is legal in Colorado and demand is strong. The lines are long at the stores that sell the drug. Residents can buy 1 ounce at a time, visitors are limited to a quarter of an ounce. All products are imprinted with bar codes, and are electronically traceable.

 Pot stores in the state of Washington, which also voted to legalize recreational marijuana, are expected to open later this year. 

Signatures are being gathered in at least five other states to put marijuana measures on the ballot this year and marijuana activists hope to help pass similar laws in 13 more states by 2017.

An increasing number of states have enacted medical marijuana laws. That is how the marijuana movement really got started. California was the first in 1996, followed by 20 others and the District of Columbia. While the medical community is still divided on the medicinal benefits of marijuana, more Americans are using the drug to help manage the pain and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses. 

In January President Obama mused that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol — although he cautioned that he hopes his children will avoid it. Under Obama the federal government has allowed commercial marijuana sales as long as they are strictly regulated.

Some might be tempted to dismiss the president’s position on pot as another misguided liberal policy. But when the conservative National Review magazine praises Colorado’s legalization efforts as “sensible” and “prudent,” well, you know the times they are a changing.

Last week, a Missouri House Committee held a hearing on a bill which would legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is a former judge. He testified that in all his time as a judge, He handed down thousands of sentences for cannabis offenses but doubted that he deterred a single person from smoking a single joint. 

A quick survey of next week’s criminal court dockets in Franklin County reveals no shortage of marijuana possession cases. Our guess is that our local judges would be sympathetic to Kelly’s bill or at least to some decriminalization reforms.

There was opposition to the bill and even its supporters acknowledge that the proposed legislation isn’t going anywhere this year. But the fact that a similar bill couldn’t even get a hearing last year shows that the issue is getting some attention in the Legislature. 

Our prediction is that Missouri will be among the last of the states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But don’t be surprised if legislation allowing medical marijuana use is approved in the Show-Me state in the next three to five years — if not sooner.  

State leaders across the country are carefully watching how the legalization of pot experiment goes in Colorado and in Washington. If they are reasonably successful, more states are going to jump on board to drum up new tax revenues. 

Legalized pot is coming to Missouri. It is just a matter of time.