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SPECIAL REPORT: Pot or Not - KOAM TV 7

SPECIAL REPORT: Pot or Not

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More than half of all Americans now live in states that have reformed marijuana laws. However, reform hasn't come to the Four States... yet.

Marijuana bills introduced in both Kansas and Oklahoma this year didn't get far. A medical marijuana initiative narrowly failed in Arkansas and supporters will push for it again next year.

But the most aggressive campaign in this area might be in Missouri.

We examine the burning issue in a two-part report, titled "Pot or Not."

Part 1 - Recreational Use

Frank Neely sprinkles dried leaves into rolling paper. Roll. Twist. Light.  For demonstration purposes, Neely is smoking a legal herb, but his usual choice is marijuana.

"It's no less accessible now than at any other time in my life, when I was a kid, when I was in college," Neely says. "It's not going anywhere."

Neely tried his first joint when he was about 15. Now, at age 35, this Joplin man says he typically uses pot two or three times a week and he doesn't think he should have to hide that fact.

"I mean a responsible adult can use marijuana and I think they should be able to."

Neely is among a growing number of Americans who beleive marijuana should be legalized.

According to the latest gallup poll released just last month, support nationwide has jumped to 58%, a clear majority for the first time ever, and up from 48% just one year ago.

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Marijuana support Kelly Maddy believes the legalization of marijuana is inevitable. Maddy is president of the Joplin chapter of NORML - National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws - and a member of Show Me Cannabis (Facebook, Twitter). Both groups want a taxed and regulated market for marijuana in Missouri similar to alcohol, requiring a license for both production and sale and permitted only for those over age 21.

The groups aren't waiting. Show Me Cannabis is working with lawyers drafting an initiative right now. In the coming months the group will begin public polling to measure support for getting a proposal on Missouri ballots as soon as next year.

"Since the two states in 2012 have legalized that has really led the way for people to say, hey, this is possible." Maddy says. "It is possible for us to take marijuana, whether we like it or not, and put it into a system that makes more sense than what we have now, leaving it up to the criminals to say how they want it sold, for how much they want it sold and when they want it sold."

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Robyn Standridge sees the issue differently.

"Marijuana is a road that we do not, should not, go down until more research is done, until more controls can be put into place," she says.

Standridge is part of the group Alliance of Southwest Missouri (Facebook, Twitter) and is involved in a campaign for drug free communities.

"I see the other side of this," she says. "I see the treatment side of it. I see the intervention side of it. I also see risk to teenagers, the risk to our adolescents."

Standridge is not convinced by the argument that marijuana is safer than alcohol.

"They both have their issues," she says. "So to say we should legalize marijuana because alcohol is legal is just silly."

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Show Me Cannabis is now holding public forums in communities across Missouri. When a meeting was held in Joplin, Alliance members were there as well.

Supporters and opponents of marijuana cite conflicting studies on the harmful or beneficial health effects, the positive or negative impact on our economy and the level of burden marijuana laws place on the legal system.

If supporters are successful in getting the issue on Missouri ballots, the debate is likely to soon get a lot hotter.

If Show Me Cannabis is unsuccessful with a ballot initiative next year, the group will try again in 2016, when the presidential election is likely to attract younger voters. Where there's smoke, they're fired up. The outcome might depend on your vote - pot or not.

"Marijuana is here to stay," Maddy says. "Marijuana is not going away. "

"We do believe that people have a right to voice their own opinion and we are not trying to silence that," says Standridge. "We're just urging them to look for their own truth."

"At the end of the day I'm the master of my own body," Neely says, "and I will choose what I will do with it."

 

Part 2 - Medical Use

Marijuana use violates federal law but the U.S. Department of Justice says it won't generally prosecute ill people, who use the drug under a doctor's care, in states that allow it.

Although medical marijuana is not regulated by the FDA, it's been prescribed for pain relief, treating nausea, appetite stimulation, and more.

You can't currently get a legal pot prescription anywhere in the Four States but some groups want to change that.

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On most days Daryl Bertand uses a cane to walk.  On cool, damp days like the one when we spoke with him his shuffle is slowed.

"I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis of the spine, and stenosis of the spine," Bertrand says.  "I call it the big three, I guess."

Two spinal fusions and a hardware repair to his back left Bertrand in severe pain.  Conventional pain medication helped for a while but after his liver failed twice many pain medicines were no longer safe.

"I told the doctor I guess I don't have any options," Bertrand says.  "(I told him) I'm going to get cannabis and I'm going use that for pain.  He was okay with it."

Medical marijuana would be a legal option for Bertrand if he lived in any of 20 other states or the District of Columbia, but not anywhere in the Four States, and Bertrand was bound by his business and family to southwest Missouri.

Bertrand used a vaporizer to ingest marijuana.  It's intended to maximize the effect without some of the health risks associated with smoking.  Bertrand says it would eliminate pain within minutes.

Bertrand grew the marijuana in his attic.  He claims it was strictly for his own medical consumption, but he got caught.

"I am a criminal now for deciding what to put in my body," Bertrand says.

Bertrand and his wife, Trish, were arrested for cultivation of a controlled substance.

"It didn't become a thought until I was sitting in the back of a cop car," Trish says.  "I thought this is not right.  Patients and their families should not have to suffer like this."

After their arrest the Bertrand's playground business lost customers and the Bertrand's lost their business.

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"Do patients belong in jail or should they be allowed to get under a doctor's supervision, the medicine that works for them?"

It's a question is posed by Kelly Maddy,  president of the Joplin chapter of NORML.

"People who use medicinally should definitely be first in line when it comes to access to marijuana," Maddy says.

Robyn Standridge isn't convinced.

"As an American citizen I find that both sneaky and slimy, that they would think that we were that gullible," she says.

Standridge is part of the group Alliance of Southwest Missouri, involved in the campaign for Drug-Free Communities.

She believes the medical marijuana issue is a red herring by groups whose real objective is to win support for recreational use.

She says it's a debate better left to researchers and the FDA - not politics.

"We're not saying that there is no medicinal part of marijuana," Standridge says. "It needs to be treated as a medication, not as something we vote on. I don't vote on whether I can have amoxicillin."

"If that were the case, if they were going to use science, it would be legal", Maddy says. "It wouldn't even be regulated."

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Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts says he's not advocating either way.

"I can tell you medical marijuana is very confusing," Chief Roberts says.

Before he came to Joplin, Roberts worked in law enforcement in Washington state and Oregon, where medical marijuana is legal.

"It's very difficult for the officer on the street to determine what level of the law actually applies because the law has different nuances to it," Chief Roberts says.

Some opponents say existing medical marijuana laws in many states are too often abused, with easily obtained prescriptions for minor or faked ailments.

Darly Bertrand says his pain is as real as his scars. He says he no longer takes pot, which would risk his probation.

But he and Trish are now active in their local NORML chapter, pushing for acceptance of medical marijuana, a change they believe can't come soon enough.

"Just to make life worth living," Bertrand says. "When you're in pain constantly you start second guessing whether it's worth living or not."

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