ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Some police officers are coming out to advocate for marijuana legalization. Others are taking a stand that legalizing pot could be one of our worst mistakes. Fox 2’s Chris Hayes sat down with two active duty officers who sit at opposite sides of this debate, while carrying out the same mission to serve and protect.
One of the most recent vocal advocates of legalizing pot is a police chief in a small town in Lincoln County, Missouri. He’s with an organization called LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). On the other side of this issue is a narcotics police lieutenant who works 40 miles south in Franklin County.
“When you open that door, it’s not a marijuana cigarette, it’s not a joint. You’re opening a whole new world of THC that Colorado can’t even begin to come close to getting its arms around, being quoted as one of the biggest social mistakes they`ve ever made,” Lt. Jason Grellner said.
Lt. Grellner is talking about Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who openly questioned his state’s decision to legalize recreational pot use. Grellner is vice president of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition.
“What we hear from the other side is, ‘Don’t worry about it, people who smoke marijuana just sit in their house and smoke, they don’t get in their cars and go out.’ Well that`s not what’s happening in Colorado!” he said.
Grellner points to stories like 16-year-old Chad Britton, who died after being struck by a driver reportedly high on pot.
Earlier this month, the government released a report on the impact of legalization in Colorado. It highlights increases in marijuana-impaired driving, a 56.08 percent higher rate of youth marijuana use and a significant increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits.
“We’re seeing people taking edibles and then being involved in horrible critical incidents. We’ve got college students jumping to their deaths,” Grellner said.
Levy Thamba, 19, jumped to his death in Denver after eating a marijuana cookie advertised to have six and a half servings of THC.
Grellner says it’s an example of why pot today is nothing like what most people might think.
“You would have to smoke 30 or more pot cigarettes in the 1970s, at one time, to get the amount of THC that you’re now getting,” Grellner said.
But Chief Larry Kirk says police departments should answer to taxpayers who’ve been funding a multi-billion dollar a year war on drugs.
“At some point you have to say, as a law enforcement officer, maybe you should use those resources for other things and put our efforts towards things that could be helping the community in a better way,” Kirk said.
“We’ve seen a lot of resources and we have not seen the effect we were told we would see. So maybe we should address that money with mental health issues, with true addiction issues and stop jailing and criminalizing people for making a responsible decision.”
Chief Kirk doesn’t want to advertise where he works, but says he’s not hiding it either. He’s commanded New Athens, Illinois Police and Old Monroe, Missouri. He says he’s not speaking out so he can smoke pot.
“My religion and my faith is LDS, Latter Day Saint Mormon, so I don’t consume alcohol, I don’t consume even caffeine for that matter, but I don’t go around exposing or espousing the fact we should make that illegal,” Kirk said.
Kirk says he still enforces the laws he doesn`t agree with.
“I think the idea that police officers should remain silent and somehow just be reactive and not be able to speak out about it, I think is silly…,” he said. “Just like in the 1960s during racial strife in the south, instead of hosing black Americans and sicking dogs on them, maybe more officers could have spoken out in regards to racial injustice.”
That’s where you’ll find agreement, in the concern for social consequences and equal justice.
Lt. Grellner says legalizing pot will hurt those who are struggling most.
“Where do you think these dispensaries are going to be? Do you think these dispensaries are going to be lining the streets of Ladue and Chesterfield? Or do you think they’ll pop up mainly, or starting out at least, in the poor socioeconomic areas around the region?”
Grellner and Kirk also agree on the need to improve how we treat addiction.
Keep the conversation going by contacting Chris Hayes on Twitter @ChrisHayesTV.