Former Carter County Prosecutor Rocky Kingree On Why Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized
We are grateful for Rocky Kingree, the former Republican Carter County Missouri Prosecutor, who provided us with the following account of why he stopped prosecuting marijuana charges during his tenure:
I served as Carter County prosecutor from 2011-2015 and at the start of my term Carter County was the top place to be prosecuted for marijuana per capita in Missouri. During my term, I had 4 different sheriffs in 4 years. During my tenure, I witnessed first hand how marijuana prosecution diverted law enforcement time and resources away from the prosecution of violent crimes.
On January 18, 2013, Charles L. White, career criminal, went to the home of Clyde “Bud” Mitchell, a man in his early 80s and beat him with a weapon. Bud that night saw a man wearing a face mask with camo went for his 380 pistol, and out of the 3 rounds, one struck Charles White in the arm. I was called and said there is no way Bud at his age was going to live with the amount of blood lost. Later an ambulance was called for Charles White which we pieced together he was the attacker. After I wrote a search warrant, we did not locate the face mask, a weapon used to hit Bud, and no eye witness. Charles White stated he was hit by a round standing on his back porch. Police officers worked diligently and found one drop of blood by a fence that was between Bud and Charles White´s house. I was deeply proud of how hard law enforcement worked through the night and that that law enforcement did everything by the book, especially using proper procedures to handle the evidence.
I needed the DNA evidence at trial to show Charles White did not tell the truth to the paramedics about his whereabouts. Bud did survive and we made it through the preliminary hearing without the DNA blood evidence. If it is marijuana or blood for DNA testing an officer drives it from Carter County evidence locker over an hour to Willow Springs State Crime Lab ran by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and drives over an hour back. The nightmare began. I waited a few months for the DNA results then it became year. The crime lab stated they are backed up. See if you send marijuana, peyote, or magic mushrooms, the actually illegal part has to be extracted. Stems and seeds are not, under Missouri law, are not the total weight so it must be de-stemmed with tweezers. It takes hours.
It was the most important case sitting on my desk. I became enraged and called anyone who would listen that I wanted the DNA tested. At the same time, I started filing motions to preserve evidence because, not to be morbid, but my star witness Bud was headed towards mid-80s and I needed his testimony at trial. The community who deeply cared about Bud started losing faith in the case, in me, and the court system.
How did a crime lab get so backed up and how was Carter County the top place per capita for marijuana prosecution? Carter County has the scenic Current River that is massively owned by the federal government. The National Park Service was bird dogging marijuana charges for state police officers to make drug arrest quota. The quota was being made on the thousands of tourist that come to the beautiful Current River. It made the Ozark National Scenic Riverways look like a drug free paradise and cost of prosecution was being handed off to the local and state government. To add insult the federal government does not pay property taxes like other owners to the local government. My salary was unreasonably low because my salary like other government officials was based on assessed evaluation.
On the Current River near Van Buren, the Missouri State Highway Patrol hide their boats in mid-rivers and then hide in the bushes. They are very aware that many people as soon as getting off the bus from an outfitter with their tube, kayak, or canoe will smoke marijuana on the first large gravel bar. The hiding in the bushes tactic never landed a person doing meth, cocaine, or heroin. All of them were marijuana. The assaults and drowning victims were all down river as individuals became more intoxicated from alcohol. 99% of tourist float a 6 mile stretch of river. The response time was horrifically long for drownings and assault cases, due to the officers being at the start of of the 6 mile stretch with a boat that needed pulled out from hiding. All in the name of marijuana fighting. One drowning victim just needed a person with a knife to cut his swimming trunks drawstrings loose from the root wad. The response time was 37 minutes. Again I could not convince the Missouri State Highway Patrol that I requested they be seen throughout the 6 miles for people would think twice about committing crime such as assaults and a faster response time to emergency situations.
I do not blame the individual officers. I do blame a fake quota system that means making a bust for meth and helping an abused child is one drug arrest equal to getting a marijuana joint. And that to be a good officer you need so many drug arrest sper year. My late father, Michael Dow Kingree, retired as a Missouri Highway Patrol Trooper.
I later caught Missouri State Highway Patrol Officers telling tourists if the owner of the marijuana in the cooler don’t fess up they will write all 8 of them a ticket. The Missouri State Highway Patrol then had to be confronted about this activity. Having THC in an e-cigarette became a big thing and my neighbor became harassed when using her e-cigarette. It became worse, a parolee of Illinois was written a ticket for marijuana and an officer said they watched her smoke marijuana. Within 48 hours the person tested negative for marijuana by an Illinois state ran lab. Illinois was not happy and nor was I.
I went from ordering law enforcement to stop sending marijuana to the state crime lab to ordering I am not going to prosecute any marijuana possession on state property. At the end of my four years, I started to just take marijuana tickets and putting them in the shredder. I effectively decriminalized simple possession of marijuana in my small kingdom of Carter County. Carter County statistically went from a place with a “drug” problem when I took the helm to a place where no one was violating marijuana laws. I believe that by taking these actions, I preserved law enforcement resources to protect my community from violent criminals and it is my hope that Missouri lawmakers continue to work on turning these principles into law in 2022.