Pubdate: Fri, 22 Aug 2014
Source: Hendersonville Times-News (NC)
Copyright: 2014 Hendersonville Newspaper Corporation
Author: Nathaniel Axtell


Pro-pot forces dominated a town hall discussion on marijuana laws
hosted by two television stations Thursday at the WNC Ag Center.

By a show of hands, most of the roughly 100 people attending the
televised forum favored legalizing marijuana for medicinal or
recreational uses. But at least two panelists urged caution before
North Carolina goes the way of Colorado and Washington in legalizing
adult use of pot.

The "Your Voice, Your Future" town hall was sponsored by WLOS News 13
and WMYA and moderated by Mark Hyman, host of Sinclair Broadcast
Group's opinion segment, "Behind the Headlines." News 13 streamed the
program live on its website and WMYA will broadcast it Saturday at

Cannabis activist Todd Stimson of Fletcher was one of four panelists
who fielded questions from the audience. He was joined by psychologist
Carl Mumpower, substance abuse counselor Mario Moraga and Ben Scales,
an Asheville defense attorney who serves on a National Organization
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws legal committee.

 From the applause he received, Chuck Briggs of Etowah seemed to speak
for many in the crowd when he questioned why alcohol and tobacco are
sanctioned by the government but marijuana is banned.

"I think people that drink beer and stuff like that, that you have
more problems with that and it's legal," said Briggs, who said he's
been smoking marijuana for 20 years. "Why can't we have legal
marijuana recreationally?"

Stimson said the only reason marijuana is considered a "gateway drug"
is because "it's the most widely used illicit drug in the United
States." He said alcohol and tobacco are "really gateway drugs," and
claimed legalization would allow more addicts to seek help by creating
tax revenues for drug treatment.

While not endorsing marijuana use, Moraga agreed that pot is safer
than alcohol and other drugs.

"In my experience as a professional counselor, I've seen meth kill
people, from one hit," he said. "Cocaine, people die. Same with
alcohol. I don't think you can O.D. on marijuana."

However, Moraga said marijuana would have to be tightly controlled if
legalized for recreational use, in order to keep it away from children
and so revenues from its sale could be funneled into substance abuse

Mumpower brought catcalls and boos from the crowd when he challenged
the notion that pot is safe. The main difference between alcohol and
marijuana is "that you get stoned every time you fire one up," he
said. Pot can be "extremely addictive psychologically," he added.

Scales argued that by lumping marijuana in with hard drugs such as PCP
and heroin, pot opponents actually do a disservice to children.

"It's so safe that we run the risk of having our kids disbelieve us
when we tell them not to do heroin," he said. "We have to
differentiate between the things that can kill us and things that
can't kills us."

Legalizing cannabis would bring numerous benefits, Scales said,
including saving "prosecutorial resources," depriving drug cartels of
revenue and most importantly, keeping the drug away from children.

"Right now, drug dealers don't check IDs," he said.

John Roberts of Candler agreed that fewer kids would move from
marijuana to harder drugs if legal dispensaries replaced black market
dealers. He said studies show kids often turn to illegal drugs because
they're easier to obtain than legal intoxicants like alcohol.

Mumpower scoffed at the idea that regulated marijuana sales could
curtail children from obtaining the drug. He said the government can't
defend our borders, much less keep teenagers from getting high.

Many speakers, including James McLemore of Newton, pointed to the
therapeutic benefits of marijuana. McLemore said eating and juicing
cannabis helped him gain 20 pounds while undergoing chemotherapy for
Stage 3, inoperable lung cancer.

"This plant saved my life," he said.

Moraga urged legalization advocates to look at all sides of the debate
and to carefully examine the potential impacts on families with
members who may be predisposed to addiction. Just as some are more apt
to become addicted to alcohol, the same may be true for marijuana, he
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