The Great St. Louis Marijuana Legalization Debate


This week in St. Louis, John Payne of Show-Me Cannabis, the group attempting to legalize marijuana in Missouri through a constitutional amendment, debated against Sgt. Jason Grellner, the vice president of the National Narcotics Officers Coalition.  The debate was moderated by Mandy Murphey, news anchor at FOX 2 News in St. Louis.

st louis saint marijuana decriminalization

Murphey opened up the debate by respectfully reminding everyone to be respectful and respect the opinions of both respectable sides respectfully - at least, that's the condensed version of her numerous references to "respect" in an introduction designed to forestall any boos or catcalls.

We live-streamed the debate on 420RADIO thanks to some volunteers from Show-Me Cannabis.  While the feed was choppy, subject to the whims of cellular telephone networks, we were able to capture most of the event.  John Payne opened with his rapid-fire delivery of the facts about cannabis and how prohibition has failed to achieve even its own stated goals.

Sgt. Grellner followed with his opening remarks and that's when I began live-tweeting his remarks.  As much as it was to inform the audience it was also for my own note-taking, as the reefer madness was flowing so fast I could barely keep up mentally debunking it.  Here are my notes/tweets from the night, plus some of what I was thinking as I heard the police representative drone on (all times Central):

Cop's not one minute in before "Woodstock Weed" rears its ugly head in St. Louis #marijuana#legalization debate  7:16pm

Woodstock Weed is my shorthand for the talking point that today's marijuana is soooo much more potent than the marijuana our parents smoked at Woodstock. It always makes me wonder if that weed was so benign, can we start by legalizing that? The fact is that if you're worried about potency, why would you let criminals control the market, allow the product to be unlabeled, and incentivize making it more potent?

Cop's attributing drop from 1974-1992 in drug use to Reagan's "Just Say No" 7:17pm

Ah, yes, the 1980s, when arrests for marijuana annually declined (look it up) but arrests for all other drugs skyrocketed as crack cocaine made its way into America, ecstasy was first becoming popular, and meth began taking hold in Middle America.

Cop saying #marijuana#legalization won't reduce cop time to work on real crime, cuz they'd be enforcing new pot laws 7:19pm

This is the oddest dodge lately from the prohibitionists - the idea that the time they're wasting now going after pot "crimes" couldn't be re-directed to the solving of property and violent crime, because cops would be so busy enforcing all the new marijuana regulations.  He actually said something to the tune of "you don't really think all those people who have been breaking the laws on marijuana are suddenly going to follow the law when it's legal?"  Well, yes, I do, because their mere act of buying, selling, and possessing weed won't be a crime anymore.  As for enforcement, when you see a cop working overtime to card kids for beer at the local convenience store is when that argument makes sense.

Cop says Cartels will want #marijuana#legalization but Big Tobacco will get involved but price will drop so no tax $ 7:21pm

It's always a tough row to hoe when the cops talk about marijuana economics.  It can't really make a lot of money, or else taking that from the cartels looks sensible.  But if it makes no money, the price is so low that everyone will smoke it and we'll make none of that promised tax revenue.  But if it makes some money, the taxes will make it too expensive and the criminals will undercut it.  But that can't possibly be a smaller market than what the criminals have now because then legalizing pot would make sense.  But if it is too large of a market, Big Tobacco swoops in and makes money from it, which is somehow worse than torturing terrorist Mexican cartels and one million high school teenage dealers making money from it.

Cop says "Prohibition Does Work" & if we legalize #marijuana in 30-40 years we'll be debating legalizing another drug 7:22pm

It's rare you'll get one so dense as to say "Prohibition Does Work", but this cop says so.  More on that in a few minutes.  I'm still on this slippery slope where we legalize marijuana and it's so mind-altering that suddenly a majority of American voters will want to see retail markets for heroin.  Now will legalizing pot make Americans realize regulation beats prohibition?  Probably, but "legal drugs" is a spectrum that runs from caffeine to morphine.  I'm pretty sure we'll keep the cocaine, meth, and heroin closer to the "morphine" side of the scale.

Cop says people commit crimes because of the disease of addiction, so we need more rehab. 7:24pm

I love it when cops get all mushy with their empathy for the addicted.  I'm the son of an alcoholic and I'm struggling to remember when those cops picked up my dad for possession of beer and forced him into a mandatory rehab for alcoholism.  Nope, it's not coming to me.

Cop's logic: prohibition works, because look how many more people die from legal drugs! 7:26pm

Mr. Spock just threw up in his mouth a little at that logical fallacy.  This cop actually thinks that it is the legality of alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs that kills people.  His actual argument is that prohibition means fewer people use deadly drugs, so there are fewer deaths than from legal drugs, therefore prohibition works.  How this applies to the legalization of a non-toxic herb that has never caused a fatal overdose is beyond my capacity to understand.

Now the opening statements have concluded and the two debaters get to cross-examine each other.  John Payne opens it up:

Q: Why arrest ppl w/"disease of addiction?" Cop: Cuz if we don't, so few will go to & finish rehab 7:27pm

It's for their own good, you see.  Sgt. Grellner went on to explain the statistics how few people who use drugs actually make it through to complete rehab and quit drugs.  Well, yes, because most people who use drugs are not addicted to drugs!  But to Grellner, the mere fact that it is illegal and you used it when you were told not to means you committed a crime for which you must pay.  They really aren't concerned much with the harm aspect, to them, the disobeying of authority is the harm.

Q: Would you return to alcohol prohibition? Cop: Because so many more people drink. 7:30pm

They never have a good answer for this question.  If prohibition is the great solution that keeps people off drugs, why don't we return to alcohol prohibition?  They duck and weave and stammer and give you some pablum about culture and history and so many people who drink.  What they're really admitting is that it is a culture war they believe they can win if the "enemy" is few enough in number.

Q: If prohibition works, why do so many more people smoke pot? Cop: uhhhh 7:32pm

Great zinger by John Payne to note how few pot smokers there were at the beginning of the 1900s and as we prohibited pot more and more, we ended up with it being the third most popular drug with 19 million users.

CopQ: How do you propose keeping it out of kid's hands? SMC: Like we do alcohol & tobacco (audience laugh) 7:33pm

Grellner pressed Payne for how legalization could possibly keep pot out of kids' hands as if no one who's proposed legalization has suggested anything.  This was the first moment the respectful audience loosened up enough to laugh at the Sergeant's reefer madness.

Cop on more kids can get alc than pot, but fallacy, cuz no data on kids getting alc under Prohibtion. 7:35pm

Grellner cited some study data (probably CASA) on how more kids say they can "get" alcohol than marijuana.  This is true, but it's not because the kids are buying it from dealers.  They're stealing it from stores or parents or getting an adult to buy it for them.  Payne counters by pointing out that's a function of bad parenting.  I would've brought up that we're comparing prohibited pot to legal alcohol without knowing whether prohibiting alcohol again would reduce youth access or not.

CopQ: kids see less harm in pot, will use more. SMC: If so, then why kids see more harm in legal tobacco, use less? 7:36pm

I enjoyed watching the cop walk into the "legality = less harm perception = more use" trap and doubly enjoyed watching Payne spring it.  Tobacco is the most addictive drug and available to some high school seniors legally, yet its use has plummeted to all-time lows and kids see great harm in using it.

Cop executing the Sabet Conjecture: Alc+Tob taxes don't cover Alc+Tob costs. Well, duh, those are toxic & addictive! 7:45pm

When prohibitionists try to discount legalization, they try to poke holes in legalization's promises.  They attack the tax revenue angle by saying that alcohol and tobacco taxes only cover one-tenth of their costs to society.  This is true.  The problem is that alcohol and tobacco are toxic and addictive, not that they're legal and taxed.  Whatever cost exists for marijuana is being paid now and covered by zero tax!  Let's legalize marijuana and at least get some tax, and I bet we'll find since it is non-toxic and less addictive, we'll see far lower costs, probably enough to be covered by the tax and then some.

Cop: regulated drugs kill way more people than illegal drugs! (So, why not make alcohol, tobacco, & Oxy illegal?) 7:47pm

Again with the "legal drugs are more dangerous" argument without proposing to end their legality.  We're just stuck with the most dangerous drugs being legal and the safer ones being criminal, I guess.

Q: 60% 12th-graders see no harm in regular pot use. Cop: Smoked MedMJ falsehood led teens to believe it's good & OK 7:51pm

Let's not quibble about the "smoked medical marijuana falsehood" when there are numerous studies pointing to its medical benefits.  More than medical marijuana, the internet led teens to believe regular marijuana use isn't dangerous because they could look up the facts for themselves.    The problem now is prohibitionists have cried wolf so many times on marijuana's dangers that the actual problems for heavy adolescent use won't be believed for a while.

Cop trots out debunked 8 IQ point drop and schizophrenia links and more likely to be addicted. 7:53pm

When prohibitionists get desperate, they turn to WATC - What About the Children?!?  Grellner uses the well-debunked "marijuana causes a permanent 8-point drop in IQ for heavy adolescent use" study, without mentioning that for light use, they found the kids were a bit smarter.  Regardless, supposing pot was that bad for kids, why would you endorse a system that guarantees kids will know another kid who deals weed at school?

Cop says he's heard no new tools to reduce use, SMC says they'll be regulatory, not criminal. 7:53pm

There's a saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  For this cop, he just can't conceive that the mere use of cannabis could be something other than a crime.  To suppose that we'd just allow use, and not be vigilant about reducing use, sounds to him like just allowing rape or allowing murder.

Cop goes full circle, saying kids will perceive pot from store clerk as safer than from dealer. SMC says "you put that well" cuz it is! 7:54pm

This one made me laugh out loud.  Grellner was actually trying to build the scary argument that if kids knew that pot was something that was sold at a store, they'd perceive it as being less dangerous than some drug they had to buy from a street dealer.  Well, yes, because it is safer - it's the prohibition that causes the dealer to be a scary dude.

Cop: Never seen TV from inner city where folks want legalization, they want dealers off the streets. Wait for it... 7:56pm

This came at the end of the cop talking about how he works the streets and sees the devastation of drugs.  Payne explained how he lived in a "not so nice" part of St. Louis (code for poor and minority) and can get any drug on any corner.  The cop responds with his tales of TV crews in the inner city interviewing residents who want the crime and drug dealers off their streets, they don't talk about wanting legalization.  Well, Sgt. Grellner, how well has 40 years of prohibition worked for East St. Louis?  Gotten all the dealers off the street yet?  Here's a clue... how many tequila dealers do you have to roust off the streets?

Cop giving Sabet's "avg medmj user" white male 29yo no condition criminal history canard. 8:02pm

The debate strayed a bit into the medical marijuana arena, so Grellner brought up the old California card Kevin Sabet likes to play, explaining how an average medical marijuana patient is a 29-year-old white male with a criminal history and no severe medical history.  Uh, well, since the average pot smoker overall is 25, doesn't that make medical marijuana users older, and didn't you want fewer kids using?  And could that criminal history have anything to do with using marijuana before it was medical and getting caught?  And could it be that people with severe ailments who've been using marijuana to treat it have never had that documented by a doctor?

Q: Why not prohibit alcohol since it is more harmful? Cop: I don't agree it's more harmful. Can't "go back, already out of the gate" (Pot?) 8:07pm

An audience member asks why, if prohibition works so well, not use it again for alcohol, since it is objectively more harmful.  The cop then disagrees that alcohol is more harmful without really quantifying why, then returns to the "that horse has already left the gate" excuse for alcohol's legality.

SMC: 19 million use cannabis isn't that "out of the gate?" Cop: How many use alcohol? (So it's a popularity contest.) 8:09pm

Grellner really seems to think that if we prohibited alcohol again, fewer people would drink, but darn it, it's just so popular we could never do it.  It's nice to see acknowledgement that marijuana prohibition has nothing to do with harm, it's just a popularity contest.

Cop: So if they can't sell weed, they'll sell meth, cocaine, heroin (um, to who? you can't manufacture demand!) 8:09pm

This is the "legalization won't end crime" argument, which essentially means since cartels will keep committing other crimes, we should let them run the marijuana market.  A corollary of this argument is that cartels deprived of marijuana customers would just sell meth, cocaine, and heroin... to whom?  There are 19 million cannabis users and 350,000 heroin users.  You can't invent demand where little exists.

Q: Life w/o parole appropriate for a marijuana case? Cop: We don't know factors around the case (dodge dodge dodge) 8:12pm

This question has to do with a high profile case in Missouri where a man busted long ago on a non-violent marijuana trafficking charge is still serving life without parole.  Sgt. Grellner would not answer directly, chiding marijuana activists who "weren't there, weren't on the jury, didn't know all the facts" from a case so long ago, so...

SMC: The newspaper printed it, here it is. Cop: Yeah, but that's just convictions, you don't know arrests, pleas out. 8:13pm

...John Payne pulls out the local newspaper that had done the story and detailed all the facts of the case.  Grellner went on a tangent about how there's only 1 felony conviction for every 20 felony arrests because people plea out, blah blah blah, trying to make the point that this guy deserved life without parole for marijuana because he must have been a bad guy.

Cop: We're not incarcerating people for having weed in their pocket!  8:14pm

This always begs the question: if having weed in your pocket is not something you're feeling the need to lock people up for, why bother arresting them in the first place?  It's also untrue, as everyone arrested for weed at least spent an hour in a holding cell and if they couldn't bail out, perhaps a few days.

Cop: Only .1% of prisoners in prison for weed possession. SMC: An injustice is still an injustice (audience applauds) 8:15pm

Payne gets huge response when Grellner tries to minimize locking people up for pot by pointing out how few there are.  Even one person doing hard time for weed is too many!

Q: If legalize pot, what stops us from legal meth coke heroin? SMC: Um, those are clearly more harmful? 8:18pm

Another slippery slope where weed stones the majority enough to legalize meth.  It's like the gay marriage opponents who predicted people would marry their dogs next.

Cop: People that use heroin cocaine meth LSD all say they started with pot/alcohol. Wish I was there for the tricycle -> Hell's Angel's line 8:22pm

Grellner here even admitted there's not any, you know, scientific evidence of this, but he just knows from working with so many addicts who all say they started first with weed and alcohol that "there's something there".  Sure, he admits, some people might smoke pot and not do other drugs, but for the addicts, that marijuana will lead them to heroin.  I always bring up that every outlaw biker I ever met (I've met a few) first started out on a tricycle as a kid, but that doesn't mean buying your kid a Big Wheel is going to turn him into a Hell's Angel's biker when he grows up.

Cop: If you allow perception of harm to go down, more people will use, those predisposed to addiction will suffer. 8:24pm

This is the kind of logic that demands that we prohibit Snickers bars because those predisposed to peanut allergies will suffer.

Cop's Logic: If people perceive weed as safe, they'll use it, so we must lie about it and manufacture criminal harm for using it. /smh 8:25pm

Grellner kept coming back to those kids not perceiving weed as particularly dangerous.  He's shocked because every year, fewer kids believe the prohibitionist bullshit that says smoking weed leads you to heroin, 8-point IQ drops, schizophrenia, and crime.  What we have here isn't more kids ignoring the facts about marijuana, it's that they're learning the facts about marijuana.

SMC: If addiction is a sickness, why would you brand them for life as criminal after they find a cure? Cop: Cuz they must pay the price! 8:26pm

This was where Sgt. Grellner truly jumped the shark, after demanding empathy for the people with predisposition to addiction and our need to arrest them for their own good, he then goes on to explain why addicts who got caught have to "pay the price" because society decided they owed a debt.

Cop tells story of guy who smoked pot, got on hard drugs, went to rehab, became decorated officer. Hm, so drugs didn't ruin his life, eh? 8:28pm

Cops always have a story of some addict who got busted, forced into drug court, who then rehabbed and went on to a beautiful life.  For every one of them, there are ten folks whose lives were ruined by an arrest, whether they're sitting in prison, can't get a scholarship, financial aid, or a job, get kicked out of their housing, or are chronically underemployed because of their record.

Cop talking out his ass on schizophrenia just two days after Harvard said pot use <> schizophrenia. Must be special research at Police Dept. 8:29pm

I love when cops talk medical science.  Here Sgt. Grellner closes with rambling on schizophrenia and how young people predisposed to it are more likely to be triggered by cannabis use, all this just days after researchers at Harvard definitively said there is no link between cannabis use and schizophrenia that isn't better explained by family history of schizophrenia.

And with that the debate feed ended, with nearly every prohibitionist talking point uttered by Sgt. Grellner and expertly batted down by John Payne, who clearly won the audience over.

Source: National Cannabis Coalition - make a donation