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Part 1: Legal Pot

Marijuana debate burns strong

Show Me Cannabis holding town hall meeting

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Shown on left, the public packs the hall at the Rolla town meeting. The group invites all interested in the issue, including those unsure or opposed, to attend a similar town hall meeting in Park Hills on Jan. 23. On right, marijuana is currently illegal to grow, sell or purchase, and consume in Missouri.

 The marijuana legalization debate will hit the Parkland this month with a new twist when Show Me Cannabis hosts a local town hall meeting in an effort to open discussion on the issue.

The meeting is set to take place at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 at All Occasions Hall, located at 316 West Main Street in Park Hills. Panelists will make remarks for approximately 10 minutes. The meeting will then take a Q-and-A format. The group says the public is encouraged to speak their minds on the issue — for or against the issue of marijuana legalization.

Guest speakers will be Show Me Cannabis chairperson and attorney at law Dan Viets, and Show Me Cannabis Executive Director John Payne. Sgt. Gary Wiegert, a 34-year veteran of the Saint Louis Police Department, who became a lobbyist for the group, will also make an appearance.

"It is designed to solicit what people think about the issue. We are looking for people who support it, who are neutral on it, and people who are opposed to reform. We want all those people to come out and engage in a dialogue about the issue," said Payne.

The meeting comes on the heels of what may be one of the lengthiest sentences for a marijuana related crime ever handed down in the state of Missouri. Viets represented two siblings, Natalie and David Depriest, sentenced in November in St. Francois County by Judge Kenneth W. Pratte to a combined total of 37 years in prison for marijuana grow operation. David was sentenced to 22 years while Natalie received a 15-year sentence.

Viets said at the time it was the longest sentence he has ever seen for a first offense.

"In 27 years of representing people with marijuana charges that is the longest sentence I have ever seen for people with no prior felony convictions for cultivating a few marijuana plants," Viets said.

Show Me Cannabis says the group is not hosting the meeting specifically to address the Depriest case.

Surveys by the group in 2012 show 50 percent of Missourians are for marijuana legalization, 45 percent are against it, and five percent were undecided. However, according to Payne, after those surveyed heard support and opposition statements, the poll numbers more strongly favored legalization.

"That (increase) mostly came out of the undecided. I think it was 54-45 percent with one percent undecided. But the numbers nationally have jumped a lot in the last year because Colorado and Washington have shown that they've done it and the sky has not fallen upon them. Those polls are showing around 60 percent support now," Payne said.

The law enforcement resources consumed in the eradication of the drug is another talking point of the group. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Uniform Crime Reporting System more than 20,000 arrests for marijuana took place in 2012.

"Those are all resources that could be going to fighting more serious crimes. Right now in only about half the violent crime cases is there an arrest made and charges brought against somebody. If you're arresting 20,000 people for possession of marijuana and you're only making arrests in about half of the violent crimes, I certainly see that as being a problem.

"Right now we are wasting law enforcement resources on something that shouldn't be a criminal justice matter. Even if you don't like marijuana and don't think people should use it, I think arresting people for it and putting them in jail has proven ineffective in stopping people from using it," Payne said.   

Show Me Cannabis says they are "an organization dedicated to ending the legal prohibition on cannabis in Missouri and regulating and taxing the plant in a manner similar to alcohol."

"Over the last 30 years the number of drunk driving incidents has been cut in half and the number of cigarette smokers had declined basically by half. In fact, we've been so successful at combating youth smoking that high school seniors are more likely to smoke marijuana than they are tobacco and that substance is perfectly legal for many high school seniors," Payne said.  

The group submitted several ballot initiatives to the Missouri Secretary of State in 2013. Those initiatives were open for public comment in December. Now the group waits to see the possible language for the ballot and if there is enough support to place it before voters. If so, Missourians could vote on the issue in the fall of 2014.

However, as the Show Me Cannabis polls show, 45 percent of Missouri does not agree with legalizing the drug.

In the weekend edition of Daily Journal, Ed Moses, a retired Missouri state trooper who joined the highway patrol’s Narcotics Unit within the Intelligence and Investigation Section in 1971 and created the series, "Taking Action to Build a Healthy and Safe Missouri," will discuss why the drug should remain illegal.

Pat Pratt is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3616 or ppratt@dailyjournalonline.com

"It is designed to solicit what people think about the issue. We are looking for people who support it, who are neutral on it, and people who are opposed to reform. We want all those people to come out and engage in a dialogue about the issue.” - Show Me Cannabis Executive Director John Payne

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A town hall style meeting hosted by Show Me Cannabis on Thursday in Park Hills sparked some local debate about reforming Missouri's marijuana laws.

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