Battle over legalizing marijuana squares off in public debate

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LADUE, MO (KTVI)-- The battle over legalizing marijuana came to St. Louis, Wednesday night. 

A pro-legalization activist and a top police investigator squared off in front of a large crowd in a public debate at the Ethical Society in Ladue.

Pro-pot forces are pushing for a statewide vote as early as next year -- maybe in 2016.

The crowd of about 400 seemed evenly divided on the issue. 

“Cannabis prohibition does not actually achieve the goals that it set out to achieve,” said John Payne, Executive Director of the ShowMe Cannabis, an advocacy group forlegalization in Missouri. 

“If I could agree with all of that, the debate would be over.  But then we’d both be wrong.  So I’ll go on with my side of it,” said Sgt. Jason Grellner, drawing laughter. 

Grellner is with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association.

He argued in favor of keeping marijuana illegal in Missouri.   

It was a cordial debate moderated by Fox 2’s Mandy Murphey.

ShowMe Cannabis reports growing momentum for a vote in Missouri – with 7,000 supporters on its email list and 25,000 followers on Facebook. 

Washington D.C. and 20 states, including Illinois, have approved marijuana for medicinal use, with Washington state and Colorado approving recreational use as well. 

Payne cited statistics he said proved cannabis prohibition didn’t work and was a waste of police resources.

“Despite all of the new arrests, the price decreased, potency increased, and more people were using it.  That does not sound like a successful policy… teenagers are 3 times more likely to use cannabis than the adult population… they’re least likely to be deterred by a criminal penalty,” Payne said. 

Grellner cited police experience he said proved THC, the drug component in marijuana that makes you “high”, was far more dangerous than the varieties from 40-to-50 years ago.  He said legalization invited more trouble most people wouldn’t imagine. 

Payne cited statistics he said proved cannabis prohibition didn’t work – and was a waste of police resources.  Grellner cited police experience he said proved t-h-c – the drug component in marijuana – the part that makes you “high” -- was far more dangerous than the varieties from 40-to-50 years ago. 

“THC levels back in the 1960’s-70’s were around 1-3%.  Now we’re seeing regular street THC levels at 11%, spiking at 20%.  Just on the internet today, I was offered in my undercover status 18-32% THC levels in marijuana.  So this is not the same drug.  This is a harmful drug,” Grellner said.  “Why is it that we don’t believe the cartels will buy into this to legitimize their business and continue to suck money out of this country to go towards terrorism ?”

No matter your viewpoint there’s no arguing whether ShowMe Cannabis is driving the debate. 

The group had held 14 town hall meetings across Missouri leading up Wednesday’s big debate.

The group is holding another town hall meeting at the Lake of the Ozarks January 9th. 

Follow me on Twitter:  AndyBankerTV
Facebook:  Andy Banker on Fox 2

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