MU student wins competition

Monday, March 15, 2010 | 7:43 p.m. CDT; updated 9:33 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 15, 2010

COLUMBIA — An MU sophomore wins's competition, "Ideas for Change in America," for his idea to legalize marijuana.

Spencer Pearson is one out of the 10 winners. His idea will be shared with members of the president's administration, and will launch a grassroots campaign to advance his idea.

Pearson personally saw the medical benefits of cannabis for a family member.

"Once you see it first hand, it solidifies the impact," he said.

Pearson said it is sad that people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes have to live in secrecy and fear.

"To find a natural substance that alleviates the pain but are unable to tell their doctors about it, it's sad," Pearson said.

This first-hand experience helped encourage his passion for the idea.

Larry Talley, a member of Texas Law Enforcement Against Prohibition , works with Pearson.

Although the two have never met, their separate ideas brought them together. Pearson's idea was to legalize marijuana for recreational use, while Talley's idea was to legalize marijuana for medical use. After the first round of voting, contacted Pearson and Talley about their ideas. The decision to combine the two helped streamline the voting.

"We've had a lot of support; there are a lot of people on board," Pearson said.

Pearson, a psychology major, used Twitter, Facebook and High Times magazine to quickly spread the word of his idea.

"It's unreal," Pearson said of winning. "I had a strong feeling we would finish at the top, but it's a great feeling to actually be at the top."

The prize for Pearson and Talley is a conference call with the directors of to discuss the launching of a grassroots campaign. They will weigh the arguments for the idea and take the ideas to a member of the Obama administration. A video interview with the administrative member will be posted on

Pearson believes the Web site allows people to be more involved in politics.

Pearson said he did research on drug policy in the United States as well as the history of Prohibition. He studied publications from economists about the impact illegal drugs have on the economy.

Pearson said he believes policies that put marijuana users in prison are a big waste of money. But, he wants to find policies that work.

"I'm very passionate," Pearson said about the legalization.

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal in 15 states and the District of Columbia, but Missouri is not one of those states. However, marijuana use is still illegal under federal law. sponsors the Top 10 Ideas for Change in America. "Ideas for Change in America" is a crowd-sourcing competition that empowers citizens to identify and build momentum around a diverse range of ideas that address the challenges the country faces, according to the Web site.

During the six-week voting period, over 100,000 people from all over the country voted in the competition, according to a press release.

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