Every parking spot and nearly every seat was taken at the Ethical Society Wednesday night as Show-Me Cannabis executive director John Payne took on Jason Grellner, the vice president of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association to debate the pros and cons of marijuana legalization.
The buzz started with a Daily RFT post in October about retired Missouri drug cop Kevin Glaser's Facebook comments about what he saw as "stupid, lazy potheads" filling up a town hall meeting in Cape Girardeau on marijuana legalization. Payne, none too happy with the comments, challenged Glaser to a debate, but the ex-drug cop declined. However, when Daily RFT reached out to the MNOA's Grellner for comment (Glaser is a board member of the MNOA) and told him about Payne's challenge, he accepted.
Ever since then, St. Louis has been waiting for the Reefer Rumble. Even local TV news crews were there and Fox 2's Mandy Murphy moderated the debate.
For people who follow legalization news, no new revelations were discovered during the roughly two hour debate as both men repeated the things their sides often put forth:
Legalization will keep marijuana away from kids because its sale will be regulated as opposed to obtained on the black market, Payne says. No, legalization will make it easier for kids to get marijuana because their parents might have a pot brownie lying around and how will the kid know the difference, Grellner responds.
See also: - Missouri Drug Cop Says Marijuana Legalization Advocates Are Stupid Welfare-Sucking Potheads Who Probably Can't Read - Missouri Drug Cop Who Blasted Marijuana Legalization Advocates Says He "Wouldn't Retract a Word"
Legalization will make it easier to regulate the potency of marijuana and, in effect, the drug will be safer than it already is (which is safer than alcohol), Payne says. Potency doesn't matter because even a single hit can get somebody high, Grellner responds.
"I can drink a glass of wine at dinner and not get intoxicated, but I've never heard of somebody taking one hit of marijuana and not getting high," Grellner actually said, which likely caused at least a few people in the audience to question the quality of their dealer's supply.
A highlight of the evening was when an audience member asked Grellner if he thought it is fair and just for somebody to serve life without parole for a marijuana offense. Flyers informing people about Jeff Mizanskey, Missouri's only inmate serving life without parole for marijuana-only offenses, were passed out before the debate.
Grellner refused to give a yes or no answer, instead saying he didn't know enough about the case and sentences often take prior arrests and other details into consideration. But after the debate, Grellner told Daily RFT that a three-strike law for marijuana is "bad policy."
"What we should do is look at the three-strike policy that put [Mizanskey] in prison and we fix that policy," he says. "We don't throw the baby out with the bathwater and say 'the only way to fix it is to legalize marijuana.' The policy is bad."
Despite KSDK's video segment that portrayed the audience as undecided on the issue, the majority of the crowd was in favor of legalizing, based on applause for Payne's answers.
Click on the next page to see what some audience members thought...
However, Daily RFT wanted to talk to the people who were against legalization but came out to a debate about it anyway, such as Rashid Muhammad, an associate director of a youth drug counseling organization.
"I'm for keeping it illegal," Muhammad says, explaining that use of marijuana increases tolerance, which leads to dependency and greater use. "Even if it's regulated, people will always be able to get stronger stuff on the underground market because they can make money on it."
However, Muhammad says incarcerating people for marijuana is not something he's in favor of.
"I don't like that to the degree [incarceration] is being used now. They get felonies and then they can't get a job. I don't agree with that," he says.
Kevin Brouwer says he was on the fence about recreational use, but agrees with Muhammad that incarceration is not beneficial.
"I'm not necessarily in favor, I'm not necessarily against, but I'm curious about the conversation," he says, adding "I think there's a lot of other things we should be incarcerating people for and marijuana is not a good use of space."
There was one audience member Daily RFT spoke to who was in full favor of keeping marijuana illegal and locking people up for it: Jim Bielsmith, a board member of the MNOA and sheriff in Marion County.
"The only reason I think [marijuana] has a better perception now than it did in the [80's drug war era] is because the age group of the people has changed," Bielsmith says. "People who grew up in the 60's and 70's when the drug culture was pervasive are now moved up in the stature of society. They're now becoming the elders, and their perception of it is different than their parents were."
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