Dexter Statesman
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Show Me Cannabis to host public meeting Dec. 12 at TRC Tinnin Center

Thursday, December 5, 2013

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- A group that advocates for the legalization of marijuana will hold a town hall meeting Dec. 12 at Three Rivers College.

Show-Me Cannabis will present a panel of speakers who advocate for change in Missouri law. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Tinnin Fine Arts Center.

Speakers will include local criminal defense attorney Dan Moore, members of the group and a Springfield, Mo., man who says he needed marijuana to ease back pain after prescription medications caused liver failure.

Members of area law enforcement have indicated they plan to attend to speak against legalization.

"We want to have equal time to present the opposing side," Poplar Bluff Police Department Chief Danny Whiteley.

College trustees have said Three Rivers is following written policy in allowing the non-profit organization to rent its facility for this event.

"We have a policy in place for the use of our facilities," said board Chairman Darren Garrison. "With that being in writing, that's the policy we have to follow, based on the recommendations of our president and our attorney."

This forum is held to discuss the issue, said trustee Randy Winston, it does not indicate the college supports or does not support what the group is trying to accomplish.

"I'm okay with the meeting being there," he said. "It's neither here nor there if you are pro or con for the issue. This is an educational opportunity to study the issue."

Discussion of different matters is what a community college is for, according to Winston, a former R-1 school superintendent.

Speaking as a trustee, Wilbur Thornton said, the college has an established and fair policy that has been in place for many years concerning the rental and use of the Tinnin center.

"I would assume the administration would abide by established board policy," he said.

Trustees may not agree with groups who come to the college, trustee Ben Ressel said, but the bottom line is that if it is a non-profit, the college has to follow its policy.

"My personal opinion doesn't matter. We have a college policy that any institution that is a not-for-profit is allowed as a taxpayer to use the facility," he said.

A message left for trustee Randy Grassham was not returned as of press time. Comments were not provided by trustee Phil Davis after he was contacted by phone.

Show-Me Cannabis grew out of an effort to place legalization of marijuana on the Missouri ballot in 2012. The all-volunteer effort fell short with 70,000 signatures, but was left with a strong organization statewide, according to John Payne, executive director and treasurer.

Payne is a 2001 Poplar Bluff High School graduate who taught social studies at East Carter School District in the 2008-09 school year.

Show-Me Cannabis wants to make marijuana use by people over the age of 21 legal.

Town hall meetings like this offer a chance to create discussion among people who are on the fence about the issue or opposed to it, Payne said.

"The more people are talking about it, the more quickly minds are changing, and we're just trying to drive that process," he said.

After years as a defense attorney, Moore considers laws against marijuana unnecessary and counterproductive. No one commits a violent crime because they smoked marijuana, he said.

Show-Me Cannabis volunteer Ryan Heuiser said he knows "first hand the effects of the failed policy prohibiting cannabis in Missouri." Heuiser graduated from PBHS in 2001 and now manages a small family owned business in the area.

Heuiser said he was a soccer player in high school who was suspended from games and lost scholarships after being accused of possession. The charges were later dropped due to inadequate evidence, he said.

"I was ridiculed by my peers and had my family's name dragged through the mud for charges that were never substantiated," he said. "Had I been in possession of alcohol, I may have faced similar punishment, but with relatively little media stir or lasting consequences ... As recently as this year, I've had people ask me, "aren't you the Heuiser kid that got in all that trouble?"

Heuiser said the damage done by the accusation alone was devastating to both himself and his family.