Columbia Missouri Police Chief Favors Alternatives To Marijuana Prohibition

From Missouri NORML:

Missouri NORML’s and local attorney Dan Viets spoke with Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton yesterday about the need to reform cannabis laws in Missouri and to stop violent home raids (Columbia is where two dogs were recently shot in a marijuana raid that was captured on video, causing great public revulsion and concern nationwide–not only in Missouri).

In the past Chief Burton has alluded to the need for alternative policies to straight out prohibition. The exchange yesterday between Viets and Burton–where Chief Burton acknowledges the importance of NORML’s advocacy work–was recorded and transcribed below.

Columbia Police Chief Kenneth Burton Quote:
“If I had a chance to catch someone breaking into a warehouse and someone with marijuana (Dan and Chief crosstalk) I applaud your effort, I mean, if we could get out of the business I am sure there would be a lot of officers happy to do that.

Unfortunately, it is still a matter of law. The shooting that happened right after, …  this came to the forefront was over marijuana. And crimes of violence do occur b/c of marijuana.

You may make the argument that it is because it is illegal, and hey, you may be right.

I don’t have anything against it except it is against the law.

And as a police officer I have sworn to uphold the law. So prioritizing, when we can, you are absolutely right. We should concentrate on meth or something more serious, but we come across marijuana it is still against the law.

I am with you on the fight, and I hope you are successful at some point and we will see how that goes.”

Thanks to MO NORML and Chief Burton!

Also, more good news from MO: Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis, who announced yesterday that another member of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen is working on a marijuana decriminalization ordinance, and Slay seems to like the idea!

He’s currently doing a poll on legalization, and reformers are winning big time!

Please make sure you’re working with your local chapter of NORML in MO or nationwide to reform our country’s antiquated cannabis laws.

47 thoughts

  1. I put my 2 cents in on the ( poll on legalization) link. Seems like we may be getting somewhere finally

  2. I applaud Mr. Burton for understanding the absurdity of the law. I also understand his position of upholding the law, it is his duty and he doesn’t get to pick and choose which laws he wants to enforce. If there were more police officers and members of the government who supported the reform of the law it would happen much quicker. We need support on both sides to achieve the common goal of safe and prosperous communities.

  3. this officer should be commended but as for the rest of the officers a quote a wise man told me
    (it is hard for a person to understand somthing when their paycheck is tied to them not understanding it )
    ie the war on drugs
    I have been on the reciving end of a swat team and I see the officer that had me on the ground with an assult rifel pointed at my head every so often
    he wares a tee shirt with a swat officer in full riot gear with a battering ram and the shirt says
    with these kind of people it’s a wonder we don’t have more shootings

  4. If the Police think MM causes violence… that’s a damn lie. Alcohol is the cause of most of their issues.
    It is also a good lame excuse for them to prove innocence in this shooting.
    Now tell me when will this end……… MM does not cause problems and that WILL affect the prisons and the $$$$$ is what it’s about. As you see a life ain’t worth a thing.
    Human Rights when will anyone hold the US accountable for this type of b.s. It’s just okay. I don’t think so.

  5. Good for you Mr. Burton, I agree with you. I am a high school teacher and I see the negative effects of the criminalization of marijuana. If it were legal, like alcohol or tobacco, we could control it to a greater degree and keep it out of the hands of young kids. The legalization would cut way down on street crime that has to do with dealing. Also, we could tax it and pay for National Healthcare. I am sorry about the dogs, I do know some police that are on the drug team and I know it is the first thing they do and they also feel bad that they have to do that. If more people that were older and held responsible jobs like you and I were more honest and accepting about marijuana, we could change the laws. We could reduce crime, reduce the prison population that costs us all too much money, and increase money that could go to health care. Thank you for your courage and support. You are a brave and smart man.

  6. not sure if yall 2 saw the video or read the story, but, the dogs were shot while there was a child in the house. the cops DID NOT do surveillance on the house although there was a 8 day period from the time the search warrant was signed by a judge, until the time the door was kicked in all to find a pipe w/ residue. all because there was a snitch that said the people were selling drugs. a pipe tho? 1 dead dog? multiple gun shots w/ a kid in the house? come on now no one can sit back and say thats right even tho the police chief said some thing that sounded good, that isnt going to fix the kid from having issues from being put thru that bs. the cops are there to “serve & protect”, not go around fucking w/ people that work a 9 to 5 to put a roof over their families heads and food on the table. ok the guy smokes? and? the money and man power used for that “bust” could have been used to do something productive. possibly something that hurts people.. lets say.. ICE?!?! wtf let the people smoke their to relax after a long day as the drinkers go drink at a bar then DRIVE home w/ alcohol running thru their veins!

  7. Ken Burton is a piece of shit who defended the actions of his swat team in the home raid where they killed a family pet. Now…after the heat is put on him over this raid…..he is speaking out in favor of reform….what a hippocrite

  8. My opinion is that we should not just concede to legalizing medical cannabis. Cannabis should be completely decriminalized. The only reason it is a “gateway” drug is because it is not available legally to all. And up to this point, it is the only known treatment for PTSD that can actually decrease the amount and extent of violent rages.

    I am close friends with many law enforcement officers (some are life long friends) from 3 different states and they are of the same opinion as Chief Burton. I applaud his courage to stand up and be counted in this anti-prohibition movement. I am fairly sure that his caseload would decrease dramatically were cannabis decriminalized.

  9. i also applaud Mr.Burton,he was not the typical redneck cop who actually takes pride in putting smokers away. we need more cops to have his attitude ,not the hardcore gi joe cops

  10. well how about that some cops that arent total douchebags.. wow it could have fooled me.

  11. I think the most telling figures in the results of the linked poll are the answers to the last question. The vast majority supports taxing marijuana in addition to legalizing it.

    I think more of a focus should be put on the fiscal benefits of legalization to muni and state governments.

  12. I am glad to hear that such a conservative state as Mo. might be changing some of their draconian laws. I once lived in Schuyler co. in N.E. Mo., and there is still a law in effect that no African American (*sic negro) may spend the night in the county. While it is no longer upheld, it does go to show that some laws should not be upheld. There is no reason prohibition should continue as it has for the past 73 years. I only wish incidents like this have occurred to bring this issue into a more realistic light. Too many people do not see or hear about the abuse that we as marijuana consumers face every day. It is time to stop fearing our “protectors” and agree to disagree.

  13. I also applaud Mr. Burton for standing up and admitting although he doesn’t mind decriminalization/legalization efforts, he must uphold the law as long as it remains. This is of course understandable. I definitely think he deserves a great deal of credit, however.

    Now we only need more law enforcement officials to feel the same way.

  14. Officers do get to pick and choose what laws to enforce. That’s why they don’t pull someone over for going a couple mph over the speed limit or ticket people who are jaywalking. In Columbia, marijuana law enforcement is supposed to be the lowest law enforcement priority. This means they should be handing out more jaywalking tickets than marijuana tickets.

  15. What the police chief doesn’t seem to understand is that the manner in which the law was enforced was way beyond anything justifiable. The militaristic behavior was in no way productive regardless of the amount of marijuana that any suspect may or may not have in his/her possession. The level of brutality and violence displayed by the raid team was reprehensible.

  16. Shooting a caged dog! Those officers should be fired, period. If the Police Chief does not fire them than he is just as bad as the officers who shot the dogs. Enjoy the time you have left on this job because it is just a matter of time before your ass gets fired….

  17. The actions of the swat team has caused a huge PR problem for the mayor and the chief and many of the local officials. Now that they have caused this uproar they are quickly trying to do damage control. It won’t change the way the public feels about multiple gun shots in the house with a 7 year old child present. The danger they put these people in in order to bust this guy for possession is totally out of touch with reality. They have probably done more to damage the image of law enforcement than almost anything in recent history. Way to go Columbia swat team! You helped our side way more than anything we could have done.

  18. Good man. Maybe it took this situation in order for him to see.

    I can think of a select group that doesn’t think the laws should be followed and by that I’m eluding to one in particular. They don’t think immigration laws are fair and they insult the American public’s intelligence and step all over our constitution. Look @ Mexico’s immigration laws and tell me if their President has any right to speak negatively about how our immigration laws are enforced.

    The prohibition of cannabis is the only law I have a problem with. I don’t consume. I’m waiting for the day when light will shine on yonder head and they will realize what most of us already know. Even they know but they don’t want to admit it. When it happens I would bet that they’ll act like they were partially right even when they’re flat out wrong. Who’s the one that needs to grow up now? Stand up for our country and quit disrespecting it! You can’t lie to get what you want anymore cause the truth will be known the people demand the truth!

    Are you going to reject this comment as well NORML? Oh I see we can’t divert away from the topic and anything that does will be automatically rejected.

  19. Sounds like the Chief is a reasonable man, kudos to him for speaking sympathetically about legalization. The fact that he can even do this is a giant step forward. Pot smokers don’t want to be on the other side of the law anymore!!

    I personally would just like to be able to enjoy a bowl before I go to bed so I can unwind. I’m no different than someone who enjoys a glass of wind, but it’s pretty chilling to think the cops might bust my door down and shoot my dogs in front of my wife and kids for it. Sure is a lot of drama and tragedy for something as harmless as this man enjoying a bowl.

    I hope the kid can get some counceling after all this. I venture to guess that this event is going to be with him for a long time. Maybe when he’s older, he’ll take some pride in knowing that what happened at his house shocked the nation into action and made people of conscience say enough of this war on drugs.

  20. His choice of words keep haunting him. While there are things that are in the nomenclature of law enforcement, I have to wonder how he sees the roll of his police force. He specifically makes mention of “getting out of the business” to describe his upholding the marijuana laws. Last I checked this is a civil service, not a business he’s in. So I guess it really is a case of “we’re in the business of busting cannabis users, and the business is good!”

    Which always begs the question as to why business consultants are brought in to “streamline” police departments nationwide. They are not businesses. Not everything comes down to the rule of business. Your billing department may need some work, or perhaps your payroll, but not the entire entity.

    I honestly wish I could be less critical of his statements, but I think when it comes to where the funding comes from to keep his force going, I know that federal and other sources influence their ongoing efforts. From what I have seen in the past from this gentleman, he is an experienced politician and well spoken. I really dont trust his lip service given as it is only in response to public outcry, especially from law reformers like the NORML.

    The violence can end with people of conscious decide to stop acting in the fashion they are now. There is a big difference between the coked up, AK-47 wielding columbian backed into a corner and a dog. I can see having to be forced into quick action in the first instance, but fail to see the logic with the latter. Same goes for how a myriad of things are now dealt with by law enforcement. It seems everyone is a potential terrorist or gun wielding drug lord in their eyes. This is how they approach everyone now.

    If they want to stop the animosity, they really need to take a long look in the mirror and realize that the intimidation thing has it’s place and needs to remain there.

    I also hope that anyone in their position comes to understand that people are not “simply” reacting to single instances, but an accumulative effect that has swept the law enforcement community and keeps getting stronger. They need to get it in check before another generation grows up not in fear, but open rebellion against those who often need our support the most to remain in a civil society.

  21. Yeah? George Bush lied to us with a big smile too. (We’re gonna get the people who knocked these buildings down). Yeah right. Mission accomplished.


    If this cop were telling the truth he would have resigned already.NEVER TRUST A COP!!!! NEVER!!!

  22. Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton – Thank you for showing an open mind on this subject! For that I applaud you! I was once pulled over for speeding and subsequently searched a few years back. I had a small amount of weed in my possession (about 2 grams). Thankfully, the police officers had compassion and reasoning abilities! They let me go with the speeding ticket and took my weed. Some police officers are good people! Hopefully, most of them! Obviously some are just ignorant brutes that should not be allowed any kind of authority over another person.

  23. From: “Hinkle, Rep. Bill”
    Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010 3:15 PM
    Subject: RE: Constituent: It is your duty to support HB 2401.

    Thank you very much for your comments on marijuana and your desire to see it decriminalized. I know there are strong arguments on this issue and it is an often controversial conversation-one which crosses party lines.

    Last year, HB 1177, which would have reclassified possession of a certain amount of marijuana was not given a hearing in the House Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. I will bear your comments in mind as we move through this year’s legislative sessions, and again am very grateful you took the time to share your perspective with me.

    Thank you again for contacting me regarding this important issue. Please do not hesitate to let me know in the future if I may be of further assistance.


    Representative Bill Hinkle

  24. This is a little unrelated to this blog, but I feel it falls in the same categorie. I just recently quit smoking marijuana, and quit drinking alcohol. Got nothing againest anybody that does though, and I just want to imbue myself with mental clarity. Anyways I was driving to the bank yesterday and got pulled over by a Howard County police officer for not having a license plate on the front of my car. The police officer pulled me out of my car and asked if he could search my vehicle. Now I could have said yes, because I knew there was nothing on my persons. I said not without a warrant, because our fourth amendment says I have the right to. The officer said well we got a K9 unit coming and we can search your vehicle anyways. Then he put his dirty hands all over me and found nothing. He made me sit on the curb while the dog walked around my car, and then the dog “Jumped” on my drivers side door. The officer came back over and said alright well the dog has a pretty good nose. Are u sure there isnt anything in the car you should tell me about? I smiled: ) He said what are you smiling about, and I said nothing. He asked me the same question. I said if theres anything in that car I will be as surprised as you. While two police officers searched my vehicle the K9 officer asked me questions. Told me the dog had a pretty good nose. Asked me if I smoked marijuana and I told him that I quit smoking and drinking, asked me if I had ever been arrested and I told him yes for paraphrenalia in 2007, asked me if I had any people in my car smoking and I told him no, asked me if anybody in my car had marijuana on their persons while in my car and I told him I didnt know I dont search people that get in my car. This cop was being friendly when he gave me his 20 questions routine, but lets face it they wanted to arrest me. He told me I should get that licsense plate on my car or they will pull me over everytime. Thats when I started asking quesitons, and I asked if they would search me everytime. He said well with your history (only been arrested once) Then he said and you got that Bob Marley sticker on your car. Then I asked well should I go home and shave later? Thats when he called me a smart ass, and told me that he was being “cool” with me and I didnt have to act like that. This was the same time the other officers found nothing in my car and told me to go sit back in my drivers seat. I told the officer I apologized and that I wasnt trying to be a smart ass, and he called me a smart ass again. What happend to the fourth amendment?

  25. I think full legalization is the way to go, however I oppose decrimnalization. Just get the growers and big guy dealers right? Although it kept me from having a crimnal record upon being caught with a small amount of marijuana, decrimalization had the negative effect of increased animosity between marijuana smokers and police because this policy allowed them to take, steal as far as I an concerned your stash. We had this policy in Arizona in the 1980’s when I lived in Phoenix. The cost of marijuana went up, demand soon out-striped supply, crime increased and the streets of Phoenix exploded in violence. I think this policy is the root cause of the drug war on our border with Mexico today. We need a policy that lets pepole grow or buy their own marijuana without fear.

  26. Just another lying pig. I wonder how many lives he has ruined “Just doin my job.”

  27. this head cop got caught on tv with a handful of axle grease, his pants down and a feather stuck in his ar$e. of course he has seen the light of day and removed the feather.

    waaay too many swat minded paramilitary brainwashed thugs roaming around looking to shakedown the losers and vermin in the land of the free home of the brave.



  28. What a “cop out” pun intended. What this officer fails to mention is that after a suspect is found with Marijuana, there are several decisions an officer can make. One of those decisions is NOT to arrest the individual. An officer is sworn to uphold the law. HOWEVER, An officer has several options as far as HOW to enforce that law. Sometimes it’s a possession fine, sometimes they’ll be kind enough to drop it down to an ordinance violation right on the spot. Sometimes, they refer the charge directly to the court system. Sometimes they simply confiscate it and send you on your way. I have personally witnessed all of these actions from officers. It’s enough to suggest a possible shift in law enforcement views on marijuana. At least in my county. I believe this officer that was interviewed is telling a half truth. I think he’s all about prohibition. Or he would have mentioned what I just said above.

  29. Nice way to sweep under the rug that they terrorized a family and broke the Constitution. “oh, I get it now” appproach, what a revelation.

  30. Come on people, we have to change the law. They saying they will continue to raid and shoot dogs until the law in changed. Even if it’s a cowardly thing to do to animals, it’s justified b/c the law says so. F him

  31. This guy is nothing more than a bully and a hypocrite. Anyone with any sense of ethics would not use the excuse, “I was only following orders.” to engage in such mean-spirited and cruel (they KILLED the family pet, people!) behavior nor encourage it in others.

  32. 1 TO 3
    shit or
    get off
    the pot

    All it takes is to reschedule the whole plant material from 1 to 3. It’s really all that simple.
    THC is already legal. They call it Merinol.

  33. this guy might be baldheaded but he has a good head on his shoulders.but why doesent he refuse to fight a war against his own brothers .he is damm sure smart enough to know arresting people for marijuana is wrong

  34. Cannabis can not be legalized in the United States. It can only be re-legalized in this country. It is past time everyone began speaking and writing only the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on this topic. There was a time in this country when there was no illegal drug use. Things were just fine then, the majority of time this country has existed, and will be again if people will simply mind their own business.

  35. Remember, when cops say they have no choice but to enforce a law, they do have a GREAT choice in how far they go to enforce a law. They can draw a fine book or they can draw their guns, so I think Chief Ken Burton is just another thoughtless drone in blue hiding behinds such statements. Spitting on the sidewalk may be illegal too, but do we shoot peoples dogs over it?

  36. There is no scientific evidence linking marijuana and violence or impaired driving ability.

    The only violent crimes that have been committed around marijuana involve drug dealers.

    The arguments for self-preservation against stoners as a means to conduct illegal searches are unwarranted.

    Ideal to all parties would be to issue a warning for possession. Pushing a DUI for marijuana alone is going overboard.

  37. # 13 May 21, 2010 – Oct 26 2010 – We have decided, we will move back to Mo. Looking forward to getting back, glad to see these are still searchable. Love Norml, Love all of you brothers and sisters!

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