A petition drive led by University of Missouri-Columbia students to place an initiative on the city ballot in April has handed in more than double the amount of signatures needed, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported on December 19. Organizers handed in 2,600 signatures and estimate that 1,700 of them are valid based on a comparison with the Boone County clerk's list of registered voters. They need 1,191 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The initiative will urge the Columbia City Council to pass an ordinance that would direct everyone charged with possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana to municipal court. The measure also calls for punishment to be limited to small fines and for the dismissal of charges against people who use marijuana for medical reasons under a doctor's care.
The effort was partly inspired by the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision, lead petitioner Sarah Duff told the Daily Tribune. Sending minor offenders to municipal court instead of state court would allow them to avoid the HEA's federal aid ban on students with drug convictions, she said. The HEA drug provision applies only to federal and state convictions.
For the last 17 years, Columbia has had an ordinance given police the option of writing a municipal summons for people possessing 35 grams or less, but Police Chief Randy Boehm has since 1999 issued summonses only for people caught possessing five grams or less. Boehm told the Daily Tribune he would not support any measure that would take away discretion from police or prosecutors. "My definition of what is serious and what is minor may be different from [the petition organizers]," Boehm said. "But I don't think the system is broken."
"We hope the Columbia City Council will recognize that this proposal makes sense from virtually every perspective," countered Duff. "It will bring about more consistent application of the laws against marijuana possession while allowing those who are or hope to become students the opportunity to continue their education. We're just going to deal with the people who violate the law in a more effective manner," she said. "Jail doesn't work. It's just about time we come to grips with this."
It looks like Columbia voters will have that chance in April.