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City Council to consider decriminalizing marijuana cultivation

Sunday, March 16, 2014 | 4:14 p.m. CDT; updated 10:59 a.m. CDT, Monday, March 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — Columbia City Council will soon be taking up an ordinance that would reduce penalties for anyone growing marijuana and expand sick people's access to the plant.

The ordinance was first proposed by local attorney and activist Dan Viets in November and is sponsored by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

If approved, cultivation of up to six plants would be decriminalized for everyone, not just medical marijuana patients. Anyone caught growing up to six plants would not be subject to arrest — under city ordinances. 

If a person is caught growing marijuana without a doctor's recommendation, they would have to pay a fine of $250. Viets said people caught cultivating for non-medical purposes will be issued a summons and likely have their plants and equipment seized. 

Columbia's current medical marijuana policy decriminalizes the consumption, obtainment, possession and use of medical marijuana by seriously ill adults so long as they have a doctor's recommendation.

But Viets' and Hoppe's amendment to that law would expand the ordinance by decriminalizing the cultivation of up to six plants by seriously ill people of all ages to ensure medical marijuana patients would suffer no punishment or penalties.

The amendment would not legalize medical marijuana, because marijuana will remain "unlawful" under city ordinance, but it would expand the protection of medical marijuana patients.

Under the proposed ordinance, a marijuana patient caught growing up to six plants with a physician's recommendation would be given a $50 fine.

"(This amendment) will provide people with much more protection," Viets said.

Doctors recommending medical marijuana usage to patients are protected under city ordinance in Columbia.

"Seriously ill people" are defined in the amendment as patients suffering from any serious condition that marijuana could provide relief to, including HIV, glaucoma and cancer treatment side effects. Patients would need a referral from a physician.

But John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, said there are no legal protections for doctors recommending medical marijuana use in the state.

"There certainly isn't any protection in state or federal law," Payne said.

Duell Lauderdale, an MU junior and president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, has been under the impression that Missouri doctors can't legally recommend medical marijuana usage.

"I haven't had the opportunity to talk to a doctor about (medical marijuana) in an environment where we can discuss it in an open and honest manner," Lauderdale said. "I haven't brought it up to any of my doctors for that reason."

Lauderdale was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease last summer, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that could be treated with medical marijuana.

"Marijuana is a natural alternative to a lot of damaging prescription and over-the-counter substances we don't know all the long-term effects and side effects for," Lauderdale said. "It has the potential to treat the worst effects of some of the most debilitating chronic diseases with little to no side effects."

After reviewing the amendment, the City Counselor's office determined it was "not consistent with state and federal law," because the manufacture of a controlled substance is a felony under Missouri's Revised Statutes

But Hoppe emphasized the city ordinance does not conflict with state law. "It is different than state law," she said.

Viets described ordinances in cities like Chillicothe, where all drug offenses are charged as city violations.

"There are many city laws that cover the same offenses as state and federal law," Viets said. "Nothing requires the same punishment under each law."  

Although MUPD and the Sheriff's Department could send cases to the state prosecutor, Viets said he thinks the state prosecutor would direct those cases back to the city prosecutor, where the lesser penalties would apply.

Viets thinks the ordinance is likely to pass.

"Five council members have told me they favor it," Viets said.

The ordinance will be introduced and first read at Monday's council meeting and discussed and voted on at a later meeting.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.


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