Columbia marijuana decriminalization bill fails

A 4-3 city council vote defeated a marijuana decriminalization measure on Monday night.

After three hours of intense debate on Monday night, city council members defeated a marijuana decriminalization measure by a single vote.

In its final form, the measure would have allowed anyone age 21 or older to grow up to two marijuana plants for personal use if a doctor had prescribed marijuana-derived drugs for a medical condition. The bill also would have reduced the penalty for cultivating two or fewer marijuana plants for nonmedical use to a $250 fine.

The measure lacked the support of city staff because it would have put the cityâ??s marijuana laws at odds with state statutes, a question that ultimately contributed to the billâ??s demise. When council members asked police chief Ken Burton for his input, Burton said the ordinance would have put his officers in a difficult legal situation, particularly when conducting joint counterdrug operations with county or state authorities. As an example, he said if an MUPD officer and a city police officer both found one or two marijuana plants, the MUPD officer would still be able to book the suspected grower under state law. Missouri law considers marijuana cultivation a class B felony, which carries a prison sentence of 5 to 15 years.

More than a dozen people on both sides of the issue spoke to the council ahead of the vote. Attorney Dan Viets, who chairs Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, disputed the notion that the measure permitted what state law forbade. Clinical psychologist Gale Thompson asked why alcohol and nicotine were legal when they caused far more deaths per year than marijuana. But prevention specialist Kim Dude said young people in particular often confuse decriminalization with legalization and MU students use pot at a far higher rate than any other college campus in Missouri. And David Sohl, who sits on the cityâ??s Board of Health, called the proposal â??full of holesâ?? because it failed to address issues such as how someone could obtain the plants or what kind of doctor could write a prescription.

Council members Karl Skala and Laura Nauser cited those concerns in their decision to vote against the proposal.

â??It does create a false sense of security,â?? Skala said, referring to the question of enforcement. â??I would not want to be responsible for allowing that to happen.â??

Skala at one point offered an amendment eliminating the decriminalization portion of the bill but leaving the part dealing with medical marijuana intact. That amendment failed by one vote.

Councilman Michael Trapp said marijuana has been shown to have both good and bad effects and penalties involving it were too harsh.

â??The argument that I hear from the preventionistsâ?? side is that we have to sacrifice these individuals so we can show everyone that marijuana is bad,â?? he said. â??Thatâ??s insane.â??

Trapp, Ian Thomas and sponsor Barbara Hoppe voted in favor of the bill when the final vote was called. Mayor Bob McDavid and Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick joined Nauser and Skala in voting against it.