Local legislators oppose a full legalization of marijuana in Missouri, but some say they could possibly support changes to certain pot laws, particularly when it comes to how offenders are punished.
State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, recently sat in on a panel discussion with a Kansas City, Mo., group called Show-Me Cannabis, which believes marijuana prohibition is a failed policy. Curtman said he is not a member of the group and does not support fully legalizing marijuana.
“It’s just not an issue I know enough about,” Curtman said.
State Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said he does not think he would support “flat out” legalization of marijuana. But he said there should be a discussion in the state Legislature about marijuana laws. He is the chairman of the House Crime and Public Safety Committee.
State Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said he is also opposed to legalizing marijuana. If Missouri legalizes pot, the state will see similar problems that other states have experienced after taking such action, he said.
Going down a path of legalizing marijuana can lead to a degradation of society, Schatz said. If it is legalized, it will result in more young people using pot, he added. Children may see their parents using marijuana and model the behavior, Schatz said.
Opposed to Legalization
Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner says it makes no sense economically, socially, medically or culturally to legalize marijuana.
Substance abuse is linked to most crimes, so he questions why legalization of a drug would be a good idea. Legalizing marijuana will hurt public safety and degrade society, said Grellner, who is the director of the Franklin County Drug Task Force.
For instance, he questioned how long a bus driver should have to wait after smoking marijuana before driving students.
Grellner balked at notions that legalizing marijuana will free up law enforcement officers’ time. Many times marijuana is found during traffic stops, he said. It is not as though officers spend large amounts of time specifically searching out marijuana, he added.
Moreover, he also disputed the argument that marijuana offenders crowd the country’s jails, noting that less than one tenth of 1 percent of people in prison in 2004 were incarcerated for marijuana possession.
And he said it is also false to say that marijuana can be profitable by taxing it. For instance, he said tax revenues in 2011 for alcohol were $14 billion while societal and medical costs were $185 billion
The marijuana today is much more potent than it was in the 1960s and ’70s, Grellner said, adding that it makes no sense to legalize pot when certain cities have enacted smoking bans
“Why are we going backwards?” he asked.
Grellner also challenged the medical marijuana argument, saying credible organizations agree that smoking raw marijuana is not medicine. Marijuana lowers the IQ and is linked to paranoid schizophrenia, Grellner said.
As for marijuana laws, some cities in Franklin County already have ordinances that say offenses for small amounts of marijuana are handled in municipal courts with fines, he noted.
If there is room to reform marijuana laws it could be done by reining in some punishment that may be too heavy handed, Curtman said.
Sending a person to prison for seven years for passing five grams of marijuana may not be an efficient use of taxpayer dollars, Curtman added. Curtman points to the success counties have had with drug courts in terms of keeping people out of jail.
However, he said, he is not ready to say marijuana should be legalized for medical use.
While Curtman supports reducing inefficiencies and redundancies of state government, he said the government does have the right to intervene when one person’s actions infringe on someone else. Whether legalizing marijuana can lead to others’ rights being infringed on is a separate debate, Curtman noted.
Marijuana legalization draws a lot of interest from younger people, Curtman noted. But as a Marine and pastor’s son it has never been an issue that he has focused heavily on.
Hinson pointed out that the city of Columbia’s marijuana ordinance, which relaxes the penalty for possession of misdemeanor amounts of the drug, works well. Under the ordinance, those who possess misdemeanor amounts are subject to a fine of up to $250.
Hinson said he works in an urban area of north St. Louis County where law enforcement officials routinely see marijuana use. In fact, marijuana use is so frequent that they don’t have the time or resources to pursue every case. It’s not worth their time to take someone to jail for a “one-hitter,” Hinson added.
There should be further discussion on what amounts of marijuana need to be controlled, Hinson said. If someone is trying to distribute large amounts of the drug, that should remain illegal, Hinson said.
Some people try to link marijuana and methamphetamine, but Hinson said that is not a fair comparison. Marijuana is not destroying families and contaminating homes like meth, he said.
In the past, the state Legislature has avoided a discussion on the marijuana issue, but it is time to open it up, Hinson said. Some Republicans may fear that if they discuss changing marijuana laws that they may look weak on crime, he said.
‘Missouri Already Has Drug Problem’
Missouri already has enough of a drug problem, and when marijuana no longer gives people satisfaction they will move to another drug, Schatz said.
Schatz said he has seen nothing to show that marijuana makes people more productive. In fact, people who use it may have trouble on the job, he said.
He acknowledged that he is not an expert on the state’s marijuana laws, but he said law enforcement does probably spend a lot of time dealing with marijuana users.
Schatz questioned whether it makes sense to carry heavy prison sentences for casual users. There needs to be an alternative to get away from the lifestyle, Schatz said, adding that prison is not always the answer.
He said he does not know how jail time for users can be relaxed. But he said there needs to be a heavy penalty for people who continue to distribute marijuana.
Show-Me Cannabis believes marijuana prohibition is a failed policy and that regulating the drug, similar to alcohol, would be a better approach than the current “criminal market system.”
The organization also wants to engage in a public discussion on the value of industrial hemp.
According to the Southeast Missourian, St. Louis Police Department Sgt. Gary Wiegert is a lobbyist for Show-Me Cannabis.
Just because he took part in the Show-Me Cannabis panel discussion does not mean he supports the group’s cause, Curtman added.
The panel recently discussed the marijuana issue at the public library in Cape Girardeau. Curtman noted that he had taken part in one other panel discussion with the group in Rolla previously. He said he was just being responsive to citizens by listening to their viewpoints.
Moreover, he said the group may have wanted him to take part in the discussion because he chairs the Downsizing State Government Committee, which held a hearing on a marijuana bill in the last legislative session.
His purpose at the panel discussion was to offer a conservative perspective on the issue, he added. Any reform to marijuana laws should be done with a balance between law enforcement and the medical industry, Curtman said. He said he appreciates the insight law enforcement has on the problems drugs cause.