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Initiative Petition Aims To Decriminalize Marijuana

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Kelly Maddy, president of the Joplin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, took a deep breath on Friday and started his fight.

Joplin’s City Hall was chosen as the starting point of a year-long battle to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Joplin and the paraphernalia that’s used to smoke it.

“We are here today to introduce an opportunity for the citizens of Joplin to enact a more sensible marijuana policy,” he announced.

Maddy was flanked by Kris Krane, the executive director of national organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Ryan Denham, president of the Alliance for Drug Reform Policy in Arkansas.

“Over 200 people were arrested in 2005 for marijuana in Joplin,” he said “This is a waste of police resources that could otherwise be allocated to more serious crime. Our city’s marijuana laws are not only a waste of taxpayer money and police resources, they are by definition a failed policy.”

The Sensible Sentencing Initiative, as proposed by Maddy and Joplin NORML, would, if endorsed by a majority of Joplin voters in November 2008, make possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia an administrative offense.

The petition also makes clear that adults arrested for simple possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia would not be jailed or have to post bond. Those found guilty of the infraction in municipal court would be subject to a $250 maximum fine.

Under current law, those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession or possession of paraphernalia within the city of Joplin are subject to a $500 fine and/or 100 days or less in jail based on the judge’s discretion at sentencing.

Possession cases are currently not referred to the county prosecutor unless the amount of marijuana possessed is 35 grams or more making it a felony offense, according to Cpl. Chuck Niess, the Joplin Police Department’s assistant public information officer.

For R. Lewis Phillips, 69, of Joplin, the idea of decriminalizing marijuana is a non-issue.

“No, not even ... no way would I support that,” said Phillips.

“It’s (marijuana) a drug. I don’t approve of drugs at all. Marijuana, c*editaine ... they are all the same. I don’t think medical marijuana is the answer either. Once you open that can of worms, there is no end to it,” he said.

Phillips’ views on decriminalization were not shared by Travis Morgan. The 31-year-old Joplin resident said that he could see the possible benefit of the measure.

“It sounds like it would be cheaper for the system and lessen the strain on the courts,” he contends. “It’s not morally right, but I don’t think it should be a criminal offense. Lying is not morally right, but I would not put someone in jail for it.”

By the numbers

In order to get the measure on the November 2008 ballot, organization members and volunteers will have to collect valid signatures of Joplin voters equal to 15 percent of the number of registered voters in the City of Joplin as of the April 2008 general municipal election. City Clerk Barbara Hogelin estimated the group will need close to 5,000 valid signatures of Joplin registered voters based on past registration numbers.

Maddy said the proposal is essentially the same initiative that passed in Columbia in 2004 with 61 percent of the vote. A similar initiative passed in Eureka Springs, Ark., last November with 64 percent voter approval.

“We will have almost a year to collect the needed signatures and I think that it is a very doable thing,” he said.”

“Our home-rule charter gives us the right and that is why Missouri is such a cool state to live in. It allows cities to try out new laws that may not be ready for the state level or that just give individual citizens a voice in their own city.”

Marijuana possession arrest numbers provided by the Joplin Police Department shows that the average age of those arrested for possession during those two months was 26.5 years old, overwhelmingly male and predominately white.

‘A radical departure’

Joplin City Attorney Brian Head said that he can’t remember when the last initiative petition was placed on a Joplin ballot, but he said, he thinks it’s been more than a decade ago.

He said he could remember referendums in the city, but nothing quite like this.

“Were not going to throw up any road blocks for them, but we are not going to help pave the way either,” he said. “We will be as objective in the process as possible.”

He said the city cannot spend city funds to either support or oppose the measure, but said that council members can take a stand on the issue if they want.

As the city attorney, Head is charged with the prosecution of marijuana and paraphernalia possession cases. He said that there would be many legal questions to be answered before the new ordinance could be adopted.

“It would be an awful radical departure for a conservative community like ours,” he said.

“But again,” he added, “if the citizens choose that, we would be held to their determination as the charter and the law provides.”

“I would vote for medical marijuana, but that’s it period,” said Ada White. “I think there should be some kind of control on it, too. The people that want to abuse marijuana hurt the people who could use it for medicine.”

Darlene Ring shares her sister’s view.

“I think medical marijuana would be OK,” said Ring. “I don’t think it should be legalized except for medical purposes.”

Lois Crockett, a Joplin oncology nurse, said a legal drug, called Marinol, is sometimes used to treat nausea for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The active ingredient of Marinol is a synthetic THC, which is found in its natural form in marijuana.

Crockett said Marinol is prescribed if patients request it, but she said she does not think it is as effective as some of the new drugs that have been introduced recently for nausea.

She said over the years there had been patients who had tried marijuana to relieve nausea.

“In my opinion, there are many drugs out there that are better than marijuana in fighting nausea,” she said.

Changing people’s minds

For Maddy, it’s all about education and changing people’s minds about marijuana and the people who use it. He equates the pot-decriminalization battle he is fighting on the streets of Joplin with the gay and lesbian community’s push for greater social acceptance.

“I’ve seen lawyers, and doctors that smoke pot,” he explained. “Granted, these people are not going to come out because of their professions. It’s the same thing as the gay and lesbian rights movement,” he added.

“They didn’t really make any advances toward equality or to change anything legislatively until they came out of the closet and gave them the power that their numbers entitled them to,” he said.

Maddy suggests that the members of NORML are just regular people who are interested in opening up a discussion about the many medical, industrial and recreational uses of the long-outlawed weed.

“We have young people and older people, nurses, bank tellers, students ... people from all walks of life,” he said. “We are a diverse group of people that just want to fight for a sensible policy and fight against the stigma associated with marijuana smokers.”

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with somebody choosing a safer more rational way to have a little recreation after a hard day’s work or like somebody would do with a beer or a glass of wine,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, and I think our laws need to reflect that we’re responsible adults,” he added.

“You trust adults to use alcohol or enter into a marriage contract or bungee jump,” he said. “As long as they are adults, they should be able to use cannabis.”

News Hawk- User http://www.420Magazine.com
Source: The Joplin Globe
Author: Dave Woods
Contact: dwoods@joplinglobe.com
Copyright: 2007 The Joplin Globe
Website: The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO - Initiative petition aims to decriminalize marijuana
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