Columbia, MO -- The Columbia City Council on Monday will hear a proposal
that aims to retool the city's law-enforcement stance toward small amounts
of marijuana. The proposal would make the possession of less than 35 grams
of marijuana a ticketable offense only, not punishable by imprisonment.
Such cases would only be referred to the municipal prosecuting attorney
and would not be prosecuted by a state prosecutor.

The proposed ordinance would also ensure that patients for whom marijuana
has been recommended by a physician suffer no punishment for obtaining,
possessing or using marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia.

The ordinance would be voted on at the council's Jan. 20 meeting, Columbia
attorney Dan Viets said. If a simple majority doesn't approve the
proposal, the council will pass a second ordinance that would place the
proposal on the April 8 ballot.

"The council can either pass the ordinance or submit it to the voters,"
said City Manager Raymond Beck.

Anthony Johnson, a 25-year-old law student at MU and president of the
Mizzou American Civil Liberties Union, wrote the petition with Viets.
Johnson said he was inspired by a similar city-council initiative in Ann
Arbor, Mich.

"The main reason why this ordinance is important is that students cannot
get federal loans, grants or work-study money if they are convicted in
state court," Viets said.

"We oppose the current marijuana policy that is anti-education,
anti-patient's rights and a failed policy that disproportionately harms
students, the seriously ill, minorities and the poor," Johnson added.

Sarah Duff, who recently graduated from MU with a bachelor's degree in
political science, actively supported Johnson's initiative by spending 25
hours a week during the last six months asking people to sign the
petition. The group needed 1,191 valid signatures and collected more than
2,500 signatures, Duff said. The city clerk's office said Tuesday that the
petition contained 1,285 valid signatures.

"In the last months, I have dedicated my life to it," she said. "The
police should focus on more pressing issues that really do hurt society."

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm is not convinced by those arguments.

"I am opposed to any type of legislation that would not allow officers to
have discretion," he said. "I'm just not comfortable with that message. I
certainly feel that marijuana can be a dangerous drug."

Boehm also said in all cases that involve a first-offense possession
charge of a small amount of marijuana but don't involve other charges,
officers send the suspect to municipal court, where student loans won't be

Pubdate: Sunday, January 5, 2003
Author: Stefanie Von Brochowski
Source: Columbia Missourian