How Kansas Citians Feel About Changing Attitudes Towards Marijuana

May 10, 2016

Marijuana reform is charging forward throughout the United States, but how do we feel about it here in the Midwest?
Credit Dank Depot / Flickr - CC

Ganja. Weed. Pot. Dank herb.

Whatever you call it, marijuana is becoming a more prominent presence in American culture. Nearly half the country has legalized some form of medicinal marijuana, and four states (plus Washington D.C.) have gone whole-hog and legalized the substance for recreational use. 

And just in case you thought that change is just happening on the coasts, think again. Activist group New Approach Missouri just submitted more than 260,000 signatures to put a medical marijuana initiative on the Missouri ballot for November.

To get a grip on the Midwest's standpoint on cannabis, KCUR 89.3 asked Tell KCUR sources and Central Standard listeners to chime in about how their views on the substance have changed in light of rapidly changing policies.

A majority of our respondents told us that they disagree with marijuana prohibition, and thought that some reform was needed. Scott Randolph from Kansas City, Missouri, says legalizing marijuana for recreational use would be a major step toward needed criminal justice reform.

"After 50 years of being the full range of serious user, occasional user and just not using [marijuana], I am even more convinced that the legal system has done immeasurable social and personal damage with its ridiculous laws," Randolph says. "The personal use of marijuana should be a non-issue as long as it is done responsibly." 

Robert Fayne, also from Kansas City, Missouri, echoed the same sentiment, but was more guarded.

"Let us unlock the jail cells for people selling a small amount of marijuana," Fayne says. "Rehabilitation and job training are needed."

Dr. Jennifer Lowry is a pediatrician with Children's Mercy Hospital who specializes in clinical pharmacology and toxicology. She says loosened marijuana prohibition has led to dangerous misconceptions among children and adolescents. 

"Because of the changes we've had, especially in Colorado and Washington, the perceptions by adolescents on the risk to using marijuana has markedly decreased," says Lowry . 

One of her chief concerns is that human brains aren't finished developing until age 25, and some studies have shown THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, could negatively affect that process.

"Drugs that get into the brain, whether its those that we use medically that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration or those that are not, can actually adversely affect the adolescent in regards to their judgment or motivation," Lowry says.

NORML KC Executive Director Jamie Kacz says she believes decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana would keep it out of the hands of teens and kids. 

"There's a black market for [marijuana] and that black market will be there until we get a system in place where we can regulate it and have it available in safe, alternative ways," Kacz said. "People are scared, and they shouldn't have to be."

Kacz believes thousands of Missourians could benefit from a robust medical marijuana program. Her father passed away after suffering an aneurysm that paralyzed part of his body, and she thinks his pain could've been eased by marijuana.

"Cannabis could've possibly helped him," Kacz says. "It wouldn't have cured him, but it would've given him a better quality of life, it could've helped him cope with depression and dealing with his condition better. I truly believe that."

Still, Lowry says the science is still out on marijuana due to its federal designation as a Schedule I drug. That makes research funding difficult. 

"We know there are at least 400 other chemicals [besides THC] in marijuana ... and we don't necessarily understand the effects of them all," Lowry says. "There are many who would say marijuana is not addictive. I don't agree. There are many who would say the whole plant can help from a medicinal standpoint. That's not true."

The Missouri Secretary of State's Office has until Aug. 9 to verify New Approach Missouri's signatures. They need a little under 160,000 valid signatures from two-thirds of Missouri's congressional voting districts in order for the medical initiative to be placed on the 2016 ballot. 

Cody Newill is the digital content editor for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill