Dexter Statesman
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Sikeston Town Hall meeting held to discuss legalizing marijuana

Thursday, March 27, 2014
SCOTT WELTON -- SEMO News Service photo - A panelist speaks at the Show-Me Cannabis Sikeston Town Hall meeting Tuesday at the Clinton Building in Sikeston.

SIKESTON, Mo. -- The conversation on legalizing marijuana has started.

About 50 people attended the Show-Me Cannabis Sikeston Town Hall meeting Tuesday at the Clinton Building.

John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis, said his efforts are not motivated by a desire to legally get high -- he doesn't even use cannabis.

His motivations include freedom, human rights issues, meeting medical needs -- and economic development.

The sale of hemp products is already a $500 million per year industry in the U.S., according to Payne.

"It is perfectly legal for us to buy the products, but it's not at all legal for our farmers to grow hemp and that doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense," he said. "So we'd like to give Missouri farmers that opportunity as well."

But the organization does not plan to put an initiative for the legalization of recreational use of marijuana on the ballot for voters until 2016 when it has the best chance of being approved.

Larry Kirk, chief of police for Old Monroe and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said his support for the legalization of marijuana was something that developed over time.

Kirk said he began looking into why there was so much effort put into the eradication of marijuana.

"It seemed like we were using a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money and resources," he said, when at they were seeing "an explosion" of heroin and methamphetamine issues.

The goal of prohibition is to cut supply and demand, Kirk said, but "we are not cutting the demand for it, supply is definitely not being cut -- as a matter of fact, supply is getting better. So at this point, we are asking ourselves, what are we really spending $20 million per year on?"

Kirk said there is the fear that, if it is legalized, that "everyone is going to run out and become marijuana addicts" but doesn't think that will happen.

"I believe that anyone who wants to smoke marijuana currently in the state of Missouri is smoking marijuana," he said.

Kirk said he wouldn't use marijuana if legalized and doesn't use alcohol or tobacco.

"I know a lot of people that used marijuana" in school, he recalled, but they didn't grow up to be drug addicts but achieved advanced degrees and went on to careers in medicine, law and even law enforcement.

Education and regulation are working to bring down underage use of drugs that to him seem much more "evil," he added, and those same programs will have the same results if marijuana is regulated.

Gary Wiegert, a police sergeant in St. Louis, made clear that he was speaking as an individual and his views did not represent those of the department he works for.

Wiegert said he had to win a lawsuit defending his First Amendment right to free speech and, the day after the courts ruled in his favor so he could lobby for the legalization of marijuana, was called in for a urine test at work -- and passed.

"I've never smoked marijuana in my life," he said. "I have no intention to smoke marijuana when this passes."

Wiegert said usually officers in the St. Louis Police Department "have much more important things to do" than bust people for pot and that when he did make those arrests, other officers would make fun of him and tell him to go get a worthwhile arrest.

Good law enforcement is about priorities, Wiegert said.

"Right now in the state of Missouri, our problem really isn't marijuana," he said. "In St. Louis right now, it is heroin."

As a lobbyist for the St. Louis Tea Party, Wiegert also feels it is "not fiscally responsible" to focus on marijuana -- and unconstitutional.

"It is not up to the federal government to tell us what to do in Missouri," he said. "It is up to the state of Missouri."

Wiegert said there have also been scandals related to asset forfeiture laws.

"You focus on the money and not the actual crime," he said, "You have police departments out there actually chasing the seizure of money," and "priorities are focused away from where it should be."

Wiegert, who has 34 years of law enforcement experience, said he has seen plenty of crime.

"Little old ladies get knocked down for their purses," he said. "Nobody ever knocks down the little old lady to buy marijuana. It is always done to buy heroin, it's done to buy meth, it's done to buy cocaine."

Brandy Johnson of Bernie discussed how her youngest son has medical issues including cranial duplication, a severely abnormal brain and suffers from seizures.

She has tried every legal medication -- most of which have harsh side effects -- and every available surgery.

"Trace was having over 300 seizures a day," Johnson said.

Cannabidiol oil treatment has been proven to help some dramatically, according to Johnson. "We should be able to get all the available treatments," she said. "This is the only other option for treatment there is in the world."

And specific properties can be bred in marijuana "just like any other plant," Johnson said.

For her, "this isn't about passing a law so somebody can sit on their porch and smoke a joint. ... If they want to that's fine, but I am here to save my son and all those who don't have a voice."

During the question and answer session that followed, Payne noted that there was a nine percent decrease in driving under the influence arrests in areas with medical marijuana as compared with places where it has not yet been approved "because there was also a decline in alcohol use."

Also noted was that crime statistics are showing that legal marijuana commerce is hurting both Mexican drug cartels and local street gangs financially.

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