Newsbrief: Marijuana Initiative Campaign Underway in Columbia, Missouri 5/7/04

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Activists affiliated with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.norml.org) are seeking to place a marijuana reform initiative on the local ballot in the college town of Columbia, Missouri for a second time. In April 2003, voters rejected a similar initiative, Proposition 1, that would have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, mandated a maximum $25 fine for possession of less than 35 grams of the herb, and required that those cases be prosecuted as municipal rather than state criminal law violations (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/282/prop1.shtml).

This time around, initiative organizers are trying a slightly different tack. They have split their initiative in two, with one initiative legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana. While essentially the same as Proposition 1's medical marijuana provisions, the current initiative specifies that if the legalization of medical marijuana is found unconstitutional, persons found with less than 35 grams of pot would face a maximum $50 fine and community service.

The second initiative retreats somewhat from last year's Proposition 1. Last year, initiative supporters sought a maximum $25 fine in municipal court, while this year, the initiative would allow municipal courts to set the fine, with a maximum of $250.

Keeping minor marijuana possession cases in municipal rather than state court is an important issue in a college town like Columbia. A state conviction on even a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge can cost a student access to federal financial aid under the anti-drug provision of the Higher Education Act.

A $250 maximum is more than is usually handed out by local judge, local attorney (and NORML board member) Dan Viets told the Columbia Missourian. "The courts generally fine people $200 or less now," said Dan Viets, a lawyer working with NORML. "This would allow for an even higher fine."

Initiative supporters are now in the middle of signature-gathering. To make the November ballot, supporters need to gather signatures from 20% of votes in the last election, or some 2,276 signatures. Their deadline is late June.

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