Should marijuana be legalized? More than 50 percent of Americans think it should, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, but the issue is far from settled.
Daryl Bertrand of Ozark, Mo., suffers from degenerative disc disease and stenosis of the spine. He said he illegally used medical marijuana to ease pain after prescribed narcotics twice caused his liver to fail. In 2010, a drug task force served a search warrant and confiscated 47 marijuana plants from Bertrand’s home.
“I was growing strictly for personal use,” Bertrand said. It was his first offense; he was sentenced to five years’ probation and said he has not used marijuana since then.
Franklin County Drug Enforcement Sgt. Jason Grellner, however, says marijuana use hurts many more than it helps. Citing a Colorado study, Grellner said more than 80 percent of marijuana users are white males between the ages of 17 and 32 “with no history of any medical disease at all, but a history of criminal activity and substance abuse problems.”
“You won’t find a single medical association in the United States that backs the use of crude marijuana for any sort of disease,” Grellner said.
More than 20 states have approved marijuana use in some form. On July 14, Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill legalizing the use of hemp oil to treat epilepsy. The extract, known as CBD, is low in the THC compound that gives users a high. Illinois started a medical marijuana pilot program this year.
“The 22 states that have legalized some form of medical or recreational marijuana occupy the top 24 positions for child-use rates in the United States,” Grellner said. “This is just a footstep into legalization, which leads to higher use among youth who have higher addictive rates.”
Grellner said he does not believe there’s a place for medical marijuana.
“I don’t think that you can say medical marijuana unless you want to say medical opium,” Grellner said. “We don’t smoke opium for the benefits of morphine.”
Bertrand, however, said nothing else has worked to ease his pain. “I have one option,” he said. “I know what that option is.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana.
“The ACLU supports full legalization of marijuana — taxation and regulation,” said Jeffrey Mittman, ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “That’s not to say that we think marijuana is necessarily a good thing or a bad thing.
“The issue is: Does prohibition work? Is the war on drugs working? And more specifically, is the war on marijuana working? We think the evidence from the FBI is resounding that it is not,” he said.
“Prohibition works,” said Grellner. “Prohibition works fine. When you look at the number of people that drink alcohol, which is a regulated and taxed entity, you’re looking at 52 percent of the public; when you look at cigarettes that are regulated and taxed, you’re looking at 26.7 (percent); when you’re looking at marijuana use, which is a criminal activity, you’re looking at 7.3 percent of the overall population. Prohibition doesn’t work only if you want zero to be your absolute answer.”
The public is “not getting the right information,” Grellner said, and cautioned that products are being marketed to children.
Not true, said Rachel Gillette, executive director of Colorado NORML, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Colorado’s teen use-rate decreased 2.8 percent after the state began licensing medical marijuana centers starting in 2010. In addition, Gillette said legalizing marijuana in 2014 has generated economic benefits.
“We’ve now received over $35 million at the state level in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana,” she said.
“There are some growing pains,” Gillette said. “Reform is a process. It takes a lot of time.”
The next step may be up to Missouri voters. Petitions were circulated earlier this year, and Missouri legislators filed bills to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and to allow marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“Each state should be allowed to decide what’s best for its communities,” Gillette said.
Grellner and Mittman worry about educating voters. Grellner said too many people fall for propaganda, citing LearnAboutSAM.com as a reliable source for information. On the opposite side, Mittman pointed to an ACLU study, which, using FBI data, points out racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession; it’s a waste of billions of dollars, he said.