An effort to decriminalize marijuana possession in the southwest Missouri city of Springfield passed a key hurdle last Thursday when the city clerk announced that initiative petitions had more than enough valid signatures to be certified. Activists needed 2,101 valid voter signatures to qualify, and city officials quit counting at 2,132.
Springfield, nicknamed "The Queen City of the Ozarks," is the third largest city in the state, behind St. Louis and Kansas City, and is home to several universities, including Missouri State University.
The initiative will now go before the city council. The council can either pass it or put it on the November ballot for the voters to decide.
Whether the initiative would qualify was in doubt until the end. Initiative sponsors were notified only a week ago that they needed another 649 signatures to get certified -- nearly a third of all the signatures needed -- but they managed to pull it off.
"We made sure everybody focused on getting good valid signatures and legible handwriting," Reynolds told the Springfield News-Tribune. "We had over 15 volunteers working on this in addition to the signature-gathering company."
Reynolds said she hoped the council would just pass the measure.
"We're going to focus on convincing the City Council that they should just pass it now rather than hand it to the voters," Reynolds said. "These are things that most people want, whether they think marijuana is a good thing or a bad thing."
The initiative would decriminalize the possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana by amending an existing municipal ordinance so that adults are not arrested and face only a fine, community service, or counseling for small-time possession. The maximum fine would be $150.
Under state law, possession of 35 grams or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In some localities where decriminalization or lowest law enforcement priority initiatives have passed, law enforcement simply ignores the will of the voters and continues to arrest marijuana possessors under state laws. Police in Springfield have given no indication how they would respond.