SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield City Council has come under a wave of criticism after members said they would consider repealing or changing a citizen-driven ordinance that lowers the penalties for minor marijuana possession.
After a citizen petition initiative, the council on Aug. 27 approved an ordinance that reduces the penalty for possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana to a fine of no more than $150, community service or counseling. It also prevents law enforcement officials from arresting people only for marijuana possession or sending such cases to state court.
But many council members said they intended to immediately repeal the ordinance.
"Such a tactic is showing the voting public your distrust in them and makes a mockery of the initiative process," Daryl Bertrand said at a council meeting Monday.
One bill on the agenda, sponsored by four council members and supported by at least two others, would repeal the ordinance. Three other options, drafted at the request of Councilman Doug Burlison and Mayor Bob Stephens, would make significant changes but not completely rescind it, The Springfield News-Leader reported. The council will vote on the issue in two weeks.
In sometimes heated testimony, several speakers said a compromise is possible but that repealing the ordinance would undermine the intent of the marijuana petition and the city charter.
Maranda Reynolds, who led efforts to circulate the petition, said the charter guarantees citizens the "power to propose any ordinance ... and to adopt or reject the same at the polls."
"It does not say they'll have that power only if council feels like granting it to them," she said.
She contended that the more than 2,100 signatures gathered show "it's clear this issue matters to the people of Springfield."
City Attorney Dan Wichmer said the charter allows the council to adopt a petition-based law and then change it. Voters could then force a referendum election to overturn the council's decision by gathering signatures — about 2,100 would be needed — within 30 days.
Several speakers said they would work for a referendum election if the law is repealed.
Another speaker raised the possibility of a lawsuit.
Dan Viets, a Columbia attorney and marijuana advocate, said the city charter requires the council to pass an initiative petition or send it to a public vote.
"Pass it and repeal it was not the third option," he said, suggesting that could be illegal.
Marlys Schoenwetter was the only person to speak in favor of repealing the ordinance, saying that while supporters found enough people to sign the petition, even more oppose it.
"Marijuana use is illegal. That's the bottom line for me," she said. "I would support your decision to repeal it."