RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- As the stigma of pot use softens and more states legalize it, educators and enforcers at the Chesterfield SAFE symposium at VCU deliver a stern message: the drug is toxic.
Monte Stiles, a former federal prosecutor, says legalizing pot is setting a dangerous precedent and says the deep pocketed big pot industry is lying about its benefits.
"The legalization path is the absolute wrong path to go," says Stiles. "I want them to understand that there are forces behind the legalization effort that don't have the best interest in children or communities."
Allison Taylor and Brandon Petock can speak from experience about the dangers of marijuana. Both are recovering addicts with the McShin Foundation and say pot can lead you down a path of destruction.
"When you're involved with marijuana you're involved with people it leads to other things it definitely does," says Taylor from Mechanicsville.
"Believe me when I say it leads to worse things. I believe it is a gateway drug," says Petock from Henrico.
According to a recent SAFE survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders in Chesterfield pot is more popular than cigarettes and easier to buy than smokes and alcohol.
"That is why we are having this conference to explain the negative aspects of marijuana and will be more accessible to youth," says Regina Whitsett with Substance Abuse Free Environment, Inc.
While critics say legalizing marijuana would only introduce a drug culture and mean more impaired people in society, others argue the current drug policy just doesn't work and it's time for a change.
Jurriaan van den Hurk with Students for Sensible Drug Policy wants to clear the air when it comes to pot use.
"We are in favor of a drug policy from a public health standpoint," says van den Hurk. "We just feel the current approach with prohibition isn't achieving the goal, so we just feel it is time for a different approach."
Former federal prosecutor and drug educator, Monte Stiles says "We're not just saying no to this we're saying yes to life because life is too awesome to waste it on (pot)."
They don't see eye to eye, but both sides agree that the marijuana issue is growing one in Virginia.
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