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News (Media Awareness Project) - US MO: Mcclellan Finds Unlikely Crusaders Canvassing For Pot
Title:US MO: Mcclellan Finds Unlikely Crusaders Canvassing For Pot
Published On:2012-01-29
Source:St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Fetched On:2012-01-30 06:02:26

It would be great if our state went to pot Bernice and Wylie Williams
walked along Delmar Boulevard in the Loop in University City late
Thursday morning. Because they approached everybody they saw, they
seemed, at first glance, to be panhandlers. But unlikely panhandlers.
Respectable-looking. Kind of old for that sort of thing, too.

They were trying to collect signatures on a petition to put a measure
on the November ballot that would legalize marijuana in Missouri.
They are unlikely activists in this cause. Wylie is 73. Bernice is
69. They grew up in Texas and met at Texas Christian University. They
married after Wylie graduated in 1961. Let me explain something to
young people. What we now call the '60s did not start until 1966 or 1967.

In other words, 1961 was part of the '50s. Had Wylie and Bernice been
in college during the '60s, they would have been exposed to
marijuana. By the time the '60s started, pot was everywhere.

As it was, Wylie and Bernice never heard of pot. Well, maybe they
heard of it, but it was something exotic, maybe something that jazz
musicians smoked. Wylie had been in ROTC, so when he left TCU, he
went into the Army. He and Bernice bounced around to various duty
stations. They even went to Germany. In 1968, Wylie was sent to
Vietnam. He was stationed at Long Binh, a huge Army base near Saigon.
Presumably, there was no shortage of weed at a place like Long Binh,
but Wylie stayed away from the stuff. "I was an officer," he said. "I
didn't want to do anything wrong."

Meanwhile, Bernice and their young son moved in with her parents in
St. Charles. Her dad was in the aircraft industry and had moved here
to work for McDonnell Douglas. When Wylie left Vietnam, he decided to
get out of the Army. He joined Bernice and their son in St. Charles
and got a job as an English teacher in Jennings. It was during his
time as a teacher that he had his only experiences with pot. He was
at a couple of parties where people were smoking --- this was in the
early '70s, which were still part of the '60s --- so he took a couple
of hits. It didn't do anything for him.

Bernice was at the same parties but didn't smoke. "I'm a
goody-two-shoes," she said. Wylie left teaching after 10 years and
opened a stereo store. They moved to University City. Their son went
to University City High School. Did he smoke pot? "We have no idea,"
said Bernice. "He was not very communicative." "He was into Dungeons
and Dragons," said Wylie.

He eventually earned a Ph.D. in physics and now teaches at the
Rochester Institute of Technology. So how did two non-pot smokers get
involved with the petition drive to get a measure to legalize
marijuana on the ballot? They had a sense that the War on Drugs was
not working. At least with pot.

So when they heard that Show-Me Cannabis Regulation was having a
meeting at the county library on Tesson Ferry Road to discuss an
effort to get a measure on the ballot to legalize pot, they went.
They agreed to collect signatures.

Approximately 150,000 signatures are going to be required, including
at least 5 percent of registered voters in six of the state's nine
congressional districts. Bernice and Wylie were pleasantly surprised
with the response they received as they tried to collect signatures.
Young people seemed charmed that these senior citizens were
collecting signatures to legalize pot. Older people also seemed
sympathetic to the cause.

Bernice decided to call me because she remembered a column I wrote in
November 2010 after the voters of California rejected a measure that
would have legalized pot in that state. This gives us a chance, I
wrote. We can be the first. What will happen to the first state that
legalizes pot? For one thing, tourism will boom. We could be on the
ground floor of the pot industry. On the day Prohibition ended, who
was ready to sell beer? St. Louis. For the next 75 years, we were the
beer capital of the country. Let's do the same thing with pot, I
wrote. So we met Thursday morning in the Loop, and I followed at a
discreet distance as Bernice and Wylie sought signatures. Several
young people waved them off and claimed not to be registered voters.
A more mature man in business attire listened to their appeal, then
nodded and signed the petition. Although most historians would say
that the '60s ended around 1975, for some of us, the decade lives on.
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