Group advocating legalization of marijuana outlines arguments during Joplin stop

MISSOURI: Seligman resident Donna Denton came to Joplin Monday night to show support for efforts to legalize marijuana use in Missouri.

“People my age saw pot in the ’60s as something else entirely and that stigma is still there,” Denton said during an event at JB’s Piano Bar. “But as we have got older and our health has turned, many people my age have turned to marijuana as an alternative. We have started to re-evaluate it and to make up our own minds. We will be a big part of the election if it makes it to the ballot.”

Denton was one of an estimated 60 people at the downtown bar as Show-Me Cannabis held its first organized event in Joplin as part of a statewide tour to promote the decriminalization and regulation of marijuana production and possession in Missouri.

Show-Me Cannabis director John Payne and former board member and Joplin resident Kelly Maddy led the rally, which included a showing of the 2013 documentary “America’s Longest War” about the decades-long war on drugs.

A discussion followed with the film’s producer and Southwest Missouri residents who claim they have been hurt by existing state marijuana laws.

Maddy is the former president of the Joplin chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML. He also led an unsuccessful effort in 2008 to put a vote on the ballot in Joplin that would decriminalize personal possession of marijuana.

“The turnout was good for an area like ours that has not been stereotypically supportive of legalization,” Maddy said. “We had both sides here tonight and that is encouraging to see a dialogue started between both groups. I’m convinced that we can all learn more about the issues on the table and we can find a better way toward reducing drug abuse while finding a way to end prohibition.”

‘Concern and threat’

Also on hand Monday night were two members of the Alliance of Southwest Missouri, a local nonprofit that works to prevent what it characterizes as unhealthy behaviors, including marijuana use. The Alliance has identified marijuana “as a concern and threat to the safety and well being of families in our area.”

Members of the group, including Robin Standridge, director of Carthage Drug Free Communities, and Chelsey Hall, community impact director, said they were there to ask questions and learn what advocates of marijuana legalization are planning.

The Alliance, in a position paper issued with a statement of opposition last week, argues that legalization of marijuana will not solve prison overcrowding and that taxes raised by legalization will cover only a small portion of the social and health costs associated with its use.

Asked about research by the federal Food and Drug Administration into the possible medical benefits of marijuana, Ozark resident Daryl Bertrand — one of those who claims he was punished because he used marijuana for medicinal reasons — responded by saying research is difficult now.

“It has been a political block on the research, so getting clinical trials through has been extremely difficult. As a DEA Schedule One drug, it has been declared that it has no medical value or therapeutic value and that is a problem that many of the medical states are facing. Because there is a federal blockage on study, it is harder to pin down dosage and strength and finding ways to use cannabis to combat illness. We are limited in what can be studied by those groups because the way it is classified and that is something that also has to change.”

Schedule One refers to drugs that are tightly restricted under the federal Controlled Substances Act because they have no currently accepted medical use.

Payne, who has held four other similar meetings around the state, said he has plans for 20 more through next May.

“When we were in Rolla, we had local legislators who took part in the discussion and that is what we want to have in Joplin eventually,” Payne said. “We are laying the groundwork here to continue a discussion whose time has come. If we want to attract more of the people who are on the fence, who have questions, then we need to keep that dialogue going in the community.”

Ballot initiatives

Show-Me Cannabis’ efforts in 2012 brought 70,000 signatures to a petition to put a ballot initiative before state voters. The measure did not make the ballot then, but the group has worked toward organizing support with legislators and with residents in the state, in addition to raising money needed to campaign for their efforts in future elections.

“We haven’t decided on going after the 2014 campaign or working toward 2016 but we are going to at least draft something now to get the ballot language down,” Payne said. “But we estimate that we are going to need at least $200,000 in each (congressional) district to get our word out and that means we are going to have to raise millions.”

That campaign is what Bertrand said he wants to see.

Bertrand said he was arrested in 2010 after authorities seized 47 mature marijuana plants that he was growing for what he said was “personal medicinal” purposes. After a fall in 2009 resulted in several surgeries that put 12 screws, two rods and a metal plate in his back, Bertrand turned to growing marijuana for personal use after he said his body rejected the painkillers that had been prescribed to him.

Bertrand received an eight-year suspended sentence for his actions.

“I am a felon for turning to a substance in my body that wasn’t toxic to me,” Bertrand said. “I didn’t want to support the black market, but that’s what prohibition has made as the only option. I’m an example of why we need to step up as a state and change laws that aren’t working anymore.”

Other people in the audience shared his sentiment. Former Nevada police officer and current Joplin resident James Moore said that many of his interactions with marijuana as a police officer led him to leave the department in 2010.

“Our prisons are full of drug users and the time we are spending on current drug laws is a drain on our efforts,” Moore said. “It is ridiculous to keep a system going that isn’t stopping crime from being committed.”

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