Citizens Police Review Board discusses marijuana laws, police misconduct

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 | 10:54 p.m. CST; updated 11:23 a.m. CST, Thursday, January 13, 2011

COLUMBIA — Agenda items at Wednesday evening’s Citizens Police Review Board meeting included marijuana regulations, board member Steve Weinberg’s decision to step down and the definition of police officer misconduct.

A motion passed Wednesday night to prevent another hearing about marijuana laws at Citizens Police Review Board meetings. One member said any further concerns about the ordinances should be brought before the City Council instead of the board.

Compromises to the city’s marijuana laws nearly five years ago were intended to quell discord, but Columbia is still grappling with their interpretation.

Dan Viets, a local defense attorney who helped craft the compromise, disagreed with invited guest speakers Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton, city prosecutor Stephen Richey and assistant county prosecutor Ryan Haigh concerning whether marijuana ordinances were enforced as written.

Burton, Richey and Haigh each said they believed the ordinances were being carried out per the design of the 2006 compromise. 

Richey and Haigh said misdemeanor cases were handled in municipal court as intended by the revised ordinances.

Burton said the Columbia Police Department did not actively seek misdemeanor possession cases, though it did issue citations if they were discovered. It does, however, treat felony amounts of marijuana possession as a higher priority.

However, Viets said that the wording of the ordinance that decrees marijuana laws “among the lower priorities of law enforcement” was not restricted to only misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.

In November 2004, Columbia voters passed new ordinances that stated that the enforcement of marijuana laws would be “the lowest law enforcement priority.”

Nearly 62 percent of voters agreed the city should classify the possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor, meaning those cases would be referred to municipal court rather than state court.

Nearly 70 percent of Columbia voters approved the allowance of medical marijuana for serious illnesses.

The City Council revised these ordinances in 2006 at the request of the Columbia Police Officers Association, which worked with the Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education to develop a policy compromise.

The compromise called for a revision ranking enforcement of marijuana laws “among the lower priorities of law enforcement” rather than “the lowest law enforcement priority.” It also requested the deletion of a policy that deferred prosecution in cases of marijuana possession of 35 grams or less.

The new ordinances also allowed cases to be prosecuted in state court if the offender were caught with marijuana while committing another offense, had been found guilty of a felony in the last decade, had two or more marijuana misdemeanors in the last five years or had any misdemeanors unrelated to marijuana in the last five years.

The council approved the compromise at a meeting on Feb. 20, 2006, thus updating the city laws. Some contention about the laws has continued.

Another meeting topic was the departure of board member Steve Weinberg. He attended the session Wednesday evening but said in an interview earlier that day that he was stepping down because caring for his elderly parents unexpectedly required much of his time.

The board’s chairwoman, Ellen LoCurto-Martinez, said three candidates had applied to the council for the spot, but a decision had not yet been made.

A final meeting topic included Police Chief Ken Burton's suggestion that the board refer to the code of conduct which has been used by the Columbia Police Department when investigating complaints from citizens. He said the move would help create common ground between the police and the review board.

Burton also said that he doesn't want to narrow the current definition used by the board. "If you have input, let's put it into policy," he said.

The board's staff liaison, Rose Wibbenmeyer, said they didn't receive the code during the meeting, but they are supposed to get copies from police soon.

John McClure, a member with the Citizen Police Review Board, said it would be good if both sides have a common ground but will wait "until we see it."

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Corey Parks January 13, 2011 | 9:44 a.m.

Here is a thought. Why not lift the ban on all of it? Seems to me that Liquor, Beer, Cigarettes are more dangerous then pot yet those are legal and pot is not. Something very shady going on with the govt.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox January 14, 2011 | 3:40 p.m.

Burton's brute squad kicked in a door and opened fire in a home with a seven year old child in it for a misdemeanor possession of marijuana. That is obviously not treating it with the lowest priority as put forth in the ordinance, Burton's continued insistence that it is within the constraints of the 2006 city law shows he is either lacking mental competence to to hold the job of police chief, or that he is a bold faced liar, either way if he can't do the job he was hired to do it's time for him to go.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle January 14, 2011 | 9:50 p.m.

The report "Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids - a review of the recent scientific literature" is available from the NORML website:

The report profiles the human endocannabinoid system itself and what role it plays in human biology, as well as results of studies on use of cannabis and cannabinoids on: Alzheimers, ALS (Lou Gherig's), chronic pain, diabetes mellitus, dystonia, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, gliomas and cancer, hepititis C, HIV, hypertension, incontinence, MSRA, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, pruritus, rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea, and tourette's syndrome.

There are as many as 15,000 publications involving cannabinoids at this point. Virtually all of them indicate, at a minimum, more research being needed (instead of outright prohibition and criminalization). Many show proven, positive therapeutic effects in double-blind, placebo controlled (The FDA "gold standard" for clinical trials). Point-blank: pot is a proven effective medication.

Virtually no research publications point to any need for criminalization of cannabis use, and especially not the "ZOMG send in the SWAT teams!" mentality.

Yes, absolutely, pot can be abused, just as any drug - legal or not - can be. But evidence continues to mount showing that prohibition and criminalization of cannabis use is simply a massive over-reaction to what is actually a minor problem. Prohibition is almost completely irrational. It's a harm multiplier, not a harm reducer.

Legalize it, regulate it. Rationally.

the h4x354x0r

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