Model Marijuana

Model Marijuana
Posted by CN Staff on April 10, 2007 at 09:27:27 PT
By Juana Summers, Staff Writer
Source: Maneater
Missouri -- Arrest records show no significant change in the number of arrests for possession of marijuana since the Columbia City Council reduced the penalty for possession of less than 35 grams of the drug. But groups lobbying for change in marijuana law still promote the city as an example for similar legislation elsewhere. Columbia has maintained its status as a hotbed for debate about appropriate penalties for marijuana use since the city’s adoption of Proposition 2, a city ordinance that directs misdemeanor possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana charges to municipal court rather than prosecuting them as a felony.
Between September 2005 and September 2006, the Columbia Police Department reported 412 arrests for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana. Months with the highest arrest totals were November 2005 and January 2006. According to statistics from Columbia Police Department records, on average, police arrest about 34 individuals on marijuana possession charges per month. Columbia Police Department Chief Randy Boehm did not return phone calls to comment. Voters passed the ordinance in 2004. The City Council later amended the ordinance to deal with repeat offenders. The ordinance also places a maximum fine of $250 on misdemeanor marijuana possession. Under previous laws, students caught with marijuana could have lost financial aid eligibility due to changes in the Higher Education Act, originally passed in November 1965, to make changes in financial aid policies for postsecondary and higher education. Under the revisions made in 1998, students with federal drug charges would be ineligible for federal financial aid. “That policy has never made any sense,” said Dan Viets, a Columbia lawyer and marijuana law reform activist. “Congress made that law back in 1998, and hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise be furthering their education have been prevented to do so because of a misdemeanor marijuana conviction.” On the MU campus, students must note any prior felony drug convictions on federal financial aid paperwork. According to MU Student Legal Services, one conviction of drug possession results in withholding federal financial aid eligibility for one year. A first conviction for selling illegal drugs results in withholding federal financial aid eligibility for two years. According to the MU Office of Admissions, four out of five MU students receive some type of financial assistance, including loans, grants and scholarships. A large part of that aid is federally funded. National leaders affiliated with the movement to decriminalize marijuana see Columbia’s ordinance as a step in the right direction. “It reduces the harm associated with being arrested or interfacing with police over cannabis,” said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “It keeps students out of the crosshairs in the federal government.” Proposition 1, which was passed in November 2004 with Proposition 2, allows the use of medical marijuana for seriously ill patients with consent from a health care professional and protects the doctor who suggests marijuana as an alternative. There are no further efforts to make changes to Propositon 2 or other marijuana-related ordinances in the Columbia area. But work continues at a state level to further decriminalize marijuana and to change the rights of medical marijuana users. Viets said he considers the legalization of medical marijuana use to be the next step for those who support the use of the drug. Viets said he has been in Jefferson City working with the sponsor of such a bill, but he said that NORML and other organizations have not yet publicized its existence. The Medical Marijuana bill was introduced in the Missouri General Assembly and, if passed into law, would change the classification of marijuana as a controlled substance and legalize its use for medical purposes. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Villa, D-St. Louis, and has seven Democratic co-sponsors. Sections of the bill would require the state Department of Health and Senior Services to construct a statewide database including registry cards for medical marijuana users. The bill would also prohibit the arrest or prosecution of a person with written documentation that he or she is a medical marijuana user. Viets said bills such as this one are intended to “keep this issue in front of the public and in front of the General Assembly.” The bill has been read twice, and Viets said co-sponsors are working to get the speaker to assign the bill to a committee. Until it is assigned, the bill will not be able to progress. Proposition 1 passed in Columbia in the 2004 election with 71 percent of the vote. Columbia’s stance on the use of marijuana and its level of decriminalization has not been overlooked by neighboring cities or by the marijuana decriminalization movement. St. Pierre said NORML looks at Columbia as a model. “Columbia’s law was unique in that it expressly moved the offences from state to municipal courts, but there are other towns who have made similar laws,” St. Pierre said. Columbia is also singled out among cities with similar legislation due to its status as a “flagship university town,” St. Pierre said. Due to the large number of students and this status, Columbia and other similar cities have a “hue towards tolerance towards marijuana,” St. Pierre said. SSDP Executive Director Kris Krane said efforts in other cities, including Ann Arbor, Mich., and Madison, Wisc., to also make marijuana possession a minor fine shows the effectiveness of such policies and the amount of national support. Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan’s flagship campus and the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin is located in Madison. But even in this climate, Proposition 2 and other similar efforts met some resistance from law enforcement officers at its inception. In March 2005, several months after voters passed Proposition 2, members of the Columbia Police Officers Association led by President Sterling Infield vocally opposed the ordinance, due in part to its treatment of repeat offenders. Infield also suggested that overturning Proposition 2 would “bring a small degree of justice back to officer Molly Bowden and officer Curtis Brown,” in an open letter posted on the organization’s Web site. Columbia resident Rick Evans shot Bowden during a traffic stop in January 2005. Bowden later died from the injuries she sustained. Later in the day, Evans shot Brown in the arm while Brown was pursuing him on foot. Evans then fatally shot himself in the head. Evans had been arrested multiple times for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana. Infield, on behalf of CPOA, campaigned to have the ordinance repealed. But members of the organization and Viets, negotiating on behalf of organizations such as the Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education and NORML, struck a compromise that made stronger penalties for repeat offenders. “We agreed that people who had three convictions in five years would not come under the ordinance,” Viets said. “The agreement was that if those changes were adopted by the council, then CPOA would stop its efforts to repeal the ordinance.” The compromise was finalized in early 2006 and approved by the City Council. Changes in these laws were never voted on by the public, which caused then-Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash to vote against the changes. Ash said the decision to change the ordinance should have rested with the people since they approved Proposition 2 in a referendum. Since the changes were passed in February 2006, there has been no further resistance from members of CPOA. Jeff Westbrook, CPOA president and Columbia police detective, said the organization’s opposition to Proposition 2 was largely due to Infield’s personal influence. “That’s not something that, as the president of the organization, I’m going to focus on,” Westbrook said. Westbrook said the limited decriminalization of marijuana by Proposition 2 has only affected operations of the department in the form of “a couple of little nuisances.” “It hasn’t affected a whole lot of the way we do business to begin with,” Westbrook said. St. Pierre said the compromise and the efforts of local organizations to negotiate with law enforcement officials in Columbia was key and should be a model for other cities in similar situations. “If it wasn’t for the local NORML chapter or Dan Viets, it was clear that the local law enforcement wanted to act with a stiff arm,” St. Pierre said. Historical resistance surrounding marijuana laws by law enforcement is not uncommon, Krane said. He said this resistance comes from various motivations, including budget concerns and personal safety of officers. “I certainly think that there’s a fear amongst law enforcement that cutting down on the number of crimes that they can go after will end up cutting their budget,” Krane said. He also said marijuana arrests are typically less violent and less life threatening than more major crimes or other drug-related offenses. “It’s a lot easier to go after marijuana smokers than to go after the meth labs or the violent offenders where police officers’ lives are much more threatened,” Krane said.Note: Columbia seen by other national lobbying groups as a good example for other cities working on marijuana legislation.Source: Maneater, The (Columbia, MO Edu)Author: Juana Summers, Staff Writer Published: April 10, 2007Copyright: 2007 The ManeaterContact: forum themaneater.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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