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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Panel discusses reforming marijuana laws in Missouri

  • While some feel the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s in the U.S. didn't stop people from drinking, the same can be said about marijuana, according to the executive director of a Missouri legal marijuana movement.
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    • Marijuana reform bills filed in Mo. in 2013
      HB 511 - Authorizes the expungement for specified offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia cases, and increases the surcharge on petitions for expungement from $100 to $50...
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      Marijuana reform bills filed in Mo. in 2013
      HB 511 - Authorizes the expungement for specified offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia cases, and increases the surcharge on petitions for expungement from $100 to $500.

      HB 512 - Changes the laws regarding the possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana and the possession of marijuana drug paraphernalia.

      HB 688 - Changes the laws regarding the classification of marijuana as a controlled substance and allows its use for medicinal purposes under certain conditions.

      SB 358 - Exempts industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances and specifies that it is legal for anyone who has not been convicted of a drug-related crime to cultivate such hemp.
  • While some feel the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s in the U.S. didn't stop people from drinking, the same can be said about marijuana, according to the executive director of a Missouri legal marijuana movement.
    "It (prohibition) doesn't work, there are no good results from it and it's wasting a lot of money," said John Payne, who heads the association of groups and people who believe that cannabis, or marijuana, should be legalized and regulated like alcohol for all adults ages 21 and older.
    Payne, along with St. Louis Police Sgt. and Tea Party spokesman Gary Wiegert and State Rep. Paul Curtman (R–Pacific) held a public forum about their views on marijuana reform Aug. 8 at The Centre in Rolla.
    Roughly 85 people attended, some who admitted to using marijuana and others who hadn't tried it but still support some sort of reform on the state or national level.
    In addition to Curtman, state Reps. Keith Frederick (R–Rolla) and Jeff Pogue (R–Salem) attended to observe.
    Frederick promised to include questions about marijuana reform in one of his upcoming constituent surveys.
    Pogue said as of the end of the 2013 legislative session, he would not support changing Missouri's cannabis laws but said he approaches the issue with an open mind and agreed do more research into the subject.
    Curtman did not take a stance on marijuana reform when asked by a member of the audience.
    There were four marijuana reform bills filed this past legislative session.
    House Bill 512 would have decriminalized marijuana offenses, meaning the possibility of arrest or jail time for marijuana and paraphernalia possession would have been eliminated. It also would have limited fines for such offenses to $250 and in most cases, keep the charge from appearing on the defendant's public record through use of suspended imposition of sentences (SIS).
    House Bill 511 would have allowed for the expungement after five years with no similar convictions of all misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia cases, in both state and municipal courts, with the exception of sex-related charges.
    Senate Bill 358 would have removed hemp from the list of Missouri's controlled substances and made it legal for any person not been convicted of a drug-related offense to grow and cultivate industrial hemp.
    House Bill 688 would have allowed people in Missouri to vote on a medical marijuana referendum in the November 2014 election that, if passed by the voters, would have allowed patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess and use medical cannabis, grow three mature and four immature plants and purchase medical cannabis from nonprofit dispensaries.
    Currently, 20 states and Washington, D.C., allow for the medical use of marijuana.
    All four bills were referred to committees, and some received hearings, including HB 512 on the last day of the legislative session on the Downsizing State Government committee, which is chaired by Curtman.
    Page 2 of 4 - HB 512 is modeled after a 2004 law passed in Columbia. St. Louis also has a marijuana decriminalization law that went into effect in June.
    Payne said he expects all four bills to be reintroduced next session. In addition, he hopes a bill to fully legalize marijuana will be introduced into the Missouri House of Representatives next year.
    A study by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron states that fully legalizing marijuana in Missouri would save about $90 million in government expenditures and yield roughly $59 million in tax revenue annually.
    Curtman said the bills were assigned to committees too late in the year for much progress to be made on them.
    Payne noted that marijuana offenses stay on an individual's records for their entire life but said he felt "we should not punish them for a mistake forever. It's counter-productive and wastes resources."
    Payne and many people who attended the forum stated that those convicted of cannabis-only offenses are being branded for life as criminals, making it harder to obtain employment, housing and financial aid for education.
    "When government gets involved and creates a prohibition, the government cannot take away the demand," Curtman said.
    An attempt to get enough signatures on an initiative petition to place the question of legalizing marijuana in Missouri failed in 2012, according to Payne. Only about 67,000 signatures were collected by a mostly volunteer effort during that time.
    Payne said voters should look for a statewide marijuana reform initiative petition in either the 2014 or 2016 general election.
    Law enforcement
    The same study regarding the impact of legalizing marijuana conducted by Miron estimates that Missouri's state and local governments spent $46.37 million on more than 20,231 arrests in 2011, which translates to a little less than $2,300 per arrest.
    Wiegert, who has been a police officer for 33 years, said he has made thousands of drug arrests and hundreds of marijuana-related arrests during that time.
    He spoke at the forum, noting that his views do not represent those of the St. Louis Police Department. Wiegert said he is allowed to lobby for marijuana reform after he prevailed in a legal battle with the department.
    "It (prohibition) doesn't change the outcomes and it fills up our jails," Wiegert said, adding that is it expensive for police departments and that many officers don't want to deal with the paperwork involved.
    "There are higher priorities in the St. Louis area than marijuana arrests," Wiegert said.
    He noted that some police officers are required to meet a certain quota of arrests and, according to Wiegert, marijuana-related arrests are the easiest to make.
    He noted that while decriminalization in St. Louis hasn't been in effect for long, "the world hasn't fallen apart."
    Wiegert added, "I do not see someone burglarizing a house to pay for marijuana" unlike other drugs.
    Page 3 of 4 - Payne said that he found statewide that marijuana arrests account for half of all drug arrests.
    "It's the most common thing to be arrested for," Payne said. "The goal of marijuana prohibition is to do good, but it's hurting people that it is designed to help."
    Wiegert said he has seen no proof that marijuana is a "gateway drug," meaning that use of the drug leads to using other types of drugs.
    In Curtman's closing statements, he told forum attendees to follow the law. By not doing so, it hurts their cause, he said.
    Local police chief, sheriff weigh in
    Rolla's police chief and Phelps County's sheriff both say they oppose the legalization of marijuana, but both stated they would not be opposed to some forms of decriminalization regarding marijuana-related arrests.
    Rolla Police Chief Mark Kearse said the reason he is against full legalization of marijuana is a personal one. He called marijuana a "gateway" drug for some people.
    "I don't want my kids or grandkids to start marijuana because, for some people, it does have devastating effects. If we legalize it across the country, I'm against it," Kearse said. "With that being said, I'd have no problem with decriminalization."
    "I'm 100 percent opposed to legalizing something that you can't even control now," Lisenbe said," but if the prosecutors want to lessen the severity for possession, I'm not opposed to it ... I'm not opposed to reducing it (penalty) to a point so that it's not held against some of these young people."
    Kearse said of individuals who are strictly marijuana users: "If they are just a typical marijuana user and weren't a criminal to begin with, I don't see them going out and creating a lot of crime, but what I do see is people who use cocaine, heroin ... usually smoke marijuana."
    Lisenbe said marijuana is often found during drug raids where cocaine or heroin is found.
    While he said he doesn't see the hostility or violence from marijuana users compared to other drug users, "I have seen their motor skills diminished."
    Lisenbe said he is unsure if marijuana is considered a "gateway" drug. While arguments have been made that synthetic marijuana, such as K2, would not exist if marijuana were legal, Lisenbe said, "it's all about money and if they got something better to sell you, they will."
    Lisenbe said the content of THC, the main psychoactive or mind-altering chemical in marijuana, has dramatically increased in marijuana over the years.
    Both Lisenbe and Kearse said their departments do not "push" their officers and deputies to make a certain number of arrests.
    "I don't total up the numbers to justify my department's existence every year," Lisenbe said.
    Page 4 of 4 - Kearse said the paperwork for a marijuana arrest and a cocaine arrest are similar.
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