No candidates in favor of legalizing marijuana
5 against recreational use outright, 2 decline to take side in issue
Since Gallup first asked the question in polls in 1969, national popular opinion on the legalization of marijuana has changed drastically.
In 1969, 12 percent of poll-takers were in favor of legalization. Fast forward to February of this year, and according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 61 percent of poll-takers supported legalization, with 33 percent believing in no restrictions on use, 43 percent supporting restrictions on purchase amounts and 24 percent supporting medical use only. In the same poll, a whopping 93 percent polled said they did not believe other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, should be made legal.
In the past 10 years, Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use, 25 states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana and numerous other states have decriminalized pot.
In May 2014, Missouri became the 19th state to decriminalize marijuana in some form, as it eliminated the possibility of jail time for those caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana and reduced sentences for sale and cultivation, including the ban on probation or parole for those with third felony offenses. The changes are part of a revised criminal code scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. Elsewhere in the state, St. Louis and Columbia have decriminalized possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana.
In Barry County, the seven candidates for sheriff: former Missouri State Highway Patrolman Travis Hilburn, R-Cassville; Cassville Police Detective Danny Boyd, R-Purdy; former Barry County deputy and current Cassville Police Officer James A. Smith, R-Aurora; Cassville Police Officer and former Exeter officer Justin Fohn, R-Cassville; Barry County Lt. Terry Meek, R-Washburn; former FBI Agent Gary Davis, R-Cassville; and Barry County Deputy Justin Ruark, D-Cassville, are all against the legalization of marijuana for recreation use, or declined to take a side for or against legalization.
Fohn said he believes marijuana is a dangerous drug due to the publicity of being a low-level drug.
"It's popular with a younger crowd due to that publicity and is marketed as a 'safe' drug," he said. "It still affects the ability to make decisions or operate a motor vehicle, and it's more difficult to tests a person's impairment than alcohol."
Smith said he has researched the issue thoroughly, and his concern is the number of fatal car accidents in Colorado and Oregon have been on the rise involving drivers with traces of THC, the active chemical in marijuana, found in their systems.
"Other articles have attempted to dispute that claim with the rational of the tests administered, the fact that so many will have THC present and the chemical composition of the drug in the system," he said. "For myself, I am personally against the excessive 'recreational' use of any substances that affect the mind and actions. Doing so not only affects the individual, but also their family, friends and others they come in contact with. A person under the influence of any controlled substance puts many innocent lives at risk if they choose to do everyday tasks, such as driving their car."
Davis said he is 100 percent opposed to legalization, as drawing from his experience, he contends marijuana users can become addicted to the drug, which leads to abuse, dependence and other serious consequences.
"There are very real consequences associated with marijuana use," he said. "In 2010, marijuana was involved in more than 461,000 emergency department visits nationwide. This is nearly 39 percent of all emergency department visits involving illicit drugs and highlights the very real dangers that can accompany use of the drug. And in 2011, approximately 872,000 Americans 12 or older reported receiving treatment for marijuana use, more than any other illicit drug.
"Despite some viewpoints that marijuana is harmless, these figures present a sobering picture of this drug's very real and serious harms. In addition, according to new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research, fatal crashes involving drivers who had recently used marijuana doubled in Washington after the state legalized the drug at the end of 2012."
Hilburn said he also opposes allowing recreational use, citing the problems in states like Colorado and Washington as a result of their new laws.
"Driving while intoxicated cases have gone up the crime rate in general has gone up and the manufacturing of different and newer kinds of THC has made the drug more dangerous than ever," he said. "They are producing candy that is appealing to the children and even though it is not legal to give to kids, we all know they are going to get them. In addition they are producing higher THC levels than ever. One product being produced boast more than a 98 percent THC content. This has spawned some of the first-ever THC overdose cases. This was never before seen until now."
Ruark said he does not believe legalization would be a smart move, and marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs.
"I think the legalization of marijuana is one of the most stupid things our state government can do," he said. "I do not believe there is such a thing as recreational use of marijuana. Marijuana is a gateway drug, and most everyone knows this. I do not see any good which can come out of this for anyone."
Boyd and Meek each broke from the crowd, saying it was not law enforcement's place to have an opinion on legalization.
"In my opinion, law enforcement's position should be to enforce the law, not make the law," Boyd said. "I have no opinion on this, as I am a law enforcement agent that enforces the laws that are made."
Meek said he does not believe his opinion on the issue matters, and if legislators want to legalize marijuana, it would be their prerogative.
"I believe if the government wants this to happen, they will make it happen, whether I, or we, like it or not," he said. "They made marijuana illegal for a reason, they need to keep it that way. Other states thought it was a good idea to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, but apparently they did not think other people had a different idea to drive to those states and bring it back to sell it here so our kids have better access to get it."
When comes to enforcement of drug laws, all candidates said the job of sheriff is to enforce the laws on the books, but tactics varied on which drugs should be targeted most in comparison to the current Sheriff's Office administration.
Hilburn said although marijuana is the most commonly-used drug among young people, his focus would not be primarily on pot.
"The emphasis of the sheriff's department, if I were elected, would be too pursue more aggressive drugs, such as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine," he said. "We will enforce any and all state laws, including marijuana laws, when the opportunity presents itself to us."
Ruark said he would ramp up enforcement of drug laws, including marijuana.
"I want to be more aggressive, because it is still a drug and it is illegal, and like I have said before, it is a gateway drug," he said. "To some, this is the beginning to their long life of drug use, which could be avoided if it was not available to them in the first place. I have said it before, and I will say it again, 'If you make, sell, transport, or use drugs, I am coming for you.'"
Fohn said all illegal drugs are a priority, due to the bridge between drugs and other crimes in the county.
"I would actively investigate all claims of illegal drugs regardless of the type of illegal drug," he said. "I do feel that there needs to be a more aggressive approach to illegal narcotics, however, that only includes marijuana along with other illegal substances."
Boyd said he plans to enforce pursue all lawbreakers equally.
"I will enforce whatever the law states," he said. "I am not aware of the approach that the current administration has regarding enforcement of this law. I plan to be aggressive in enforcing laws pertaining to illegal drugs."
Smith, who was assigned as a marijuana eradication officer at the start of Sheriff Mick Epperly's career, said he believes the destruction of growing operations in the are and prosecution of the growers partially led to the rise in methamphetamine use.
"In dealing with individuals growing and using marijuana, I was able to see a huge difference in the attitude and demeanor of those using marijuana as opposed to the ones found using methamphetamines," he said. "I have learned though those dealings, that users of meth, heroin, cocaine, bath salts, K2 and other variations of stimulant narcotics tend to be much more aggressive and violent toward others.
"Studies have indicated, however, that marijuana is often seen as a gateway drug for young people, paving the way to stronger drugs. So, dealers and profiteers of the substance, especially to our children, should be dealt with in accordance to the law as with any other illegal distributer of controlled substances. As long as marijuana is considered an illegal substance, I will continue to enforce the laws established by our legislators, fairly and justly, placing the focus of narcotics investigations toward those profiting off the addictions of our fellow citizens, especially our children."
Meek said he would continue the current administration's efforts regarding drugs.
"Whenever we come across the possession of marijuana on a person or from a grow, indoor or outdoor, we would request the charges from the prosecutor for the crimes," he said. "Keep in mind, marijuana is still a drug we need to help control, but we need to be aggressive towards the drugs that are still here today and the drugs that are making a comeback, like heroin and cocaine.
"There is also a need to help control the prescription medication abuse in the county, as well. Steps need to be taken to help control these more powerful and addictive drugs first. I know this can be done through our awareness program like DARE, and extending the DARE program to higher grades within the schools."
Davis said his job will simply be to keep people safe.
"The sheriff's job is the safety and security of the citizens and visitors of Barry County, to enforce the laws of the state of Missouri and to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," he said. "That is what I will do."