What We've Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate About Cannabis Reform


By John Payne, Show Me Cannabis Regulation

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Last Friday, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch published this editorial that I wrote, arguing that the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department's attempt to silence Gary Wiegert is just one more example of how the government and other prohibitionists try to shut down discussion of this issue. I should note that after I submitted the article for publication, the radio station that refused our ads explained that they don't run any kind of political advertising. Had I known that at the time, I probably would not have been so harsh on them.

On Monday, March 4, I hired Gary Wiegert, who is also a sergeant with the Saint Louis Police Department, to lobby for Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, which advocates the reform of Missouri's marijuana laws. Gary is no stranger to politics. He has long lobbied for the Saint Louis Tea Party and was one of the leading opponents of Prop A (a.k.a. local control) this past fall.

However, on Friday, March 8, the Saint Louis Police Department called and told him to meet with superiors before taking any further interviews on the subject. The department must be unfamiliar with the first rule of holes - when you are in one, stop digging - because at that meeting, the brass told Gary that they were rescinding his previously approved application for secondary employment because he does not possess a business license to lobby.

I find the department's outrage surprising, as I hired Gary mostly to lobby for a bill that would reduce the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a fine without the possibility of arrest or jail time - which is very similar to a proposed ordinance in the city of Saint Louis that the department endorsed. Nevertheless, the department is clearly grasping at straws and violating Gary's First Amendment rights in the process. Gary has since responded by filing a federal injunction against the department.

Regardless of whether Gary ultimately prevails, the message to his fellow officers and citizens is crystal clear: Do not talk about reforming cannabis laws. And that makes sense. A law as clearly and irreparably flawed as the prohibition of cannabis can only be preserved by burying any discussion of it.

We shackle and cage 750,000 people every year for possessing a plant at a cost of roughly $8 billion. Yet that plant is still available at every high school in the country. Prohibition is a miserable failure, and everyone knows it. Few people will say it, however, because they see what happens to many of those who do.

When I emailed Show-Me Cannabis Regulation's supporters to tell them that we had hired Gary, one gentleman, whom I will call Bill, wrote back asking for Gary to talk to Bill's state representative. Bill works for his state representative, but what the representative does not know is that Bill uses cannabis medically. Bill feels that he cannot talk to his own state representative about the issue because he would risk getting fired or even arrested.

Some members of the media also worry about a public backlash if they are associated with this issue. For the past couple months, a volunteer and I have been working on launching a radio ad campaign to urge listeners to contact their state legislators. We raised the money to purchase the ads, drafted them, and sent them to an ad representative at the The Arch (WARH 106.5 FM). The representative was excited about running the ads, but when he sent them to be approved by his higher-ups, they nixed the idea. On Friday, I received a letter from The Arch's corporate overlords at Hubbard Broadcasting explaining that they "do not want to sacrifice [their] reputation for any perceived endorsement, for or against, this very controversial subject." Apparently, Ke$ha singing about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack is acceptable, but heaven forbid that someone actually talk about the people who need cannabis as medicine.

Of course, as Gary's example shows, members of law enforcement feel the chilling effect on their speech most acutely. The group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) helps support officers who make the brave decision to speak out about cannabis and the drug war more generally, but even among cops who agree with LEAP, most prefer not to rock the boat. In my time with Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, I have received numerous emails from police officers both active and retired who want to help legalize marijuana, but don't want to get involved publicly for fear of retaliation. Even those officers whom I know personally have all said that they think arresting people for cannabis is a bad idea, but they can't speak out or even sign a petition to allow a vote on the issue because command would retaliate against them.

The wall of silence surrounding marijuana prevents responsible cannabis users, law enforcement officials, and even the media from telling the public about the harms of our prohibitionist policies. That's a shame, because those are the groups the public and our legislators need to hear from the most.

Please consider contributing to Show-Me Cannabis if you appreciate this kind of media exposure for our cause! I love advocating for liberty and justice as a profession, but I still have to eat!