Columbia City Council tables marijuana plant ordinance

Monday, April 7, 2014 | 11:21 p.m. CDT; updated 6:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 8, 2014

COLUMBIA — Debra Hardin is a criminal under current state law. When her stage-four cancer kept her from eating, sleeping and walking, Hardin asked her oncologist for a special prescription — cannabis. 

"I am a good citizen," Hardin said, choking back tears as she testified Monday before the Columbia City Council. "I vote, I pick up litter, I support my family, I adopt homeless dogs and cats."

Hardin said she has been able to sleep, eat and walk since she started taking cannabis oil.

"This is comfort for me," she said. "I'm like a completely different person now."

Hardin's testimony came following City Council's 5-2 decision to table an amendment to current marijuana ordinances, proposed by local activist and attorney Dan Viets and sponsored by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

Mayor Bob McDavid and council members Karl Skala, Ian Thomas, Fred Schmidt and Laura Nauser voted to table the amendment for four months, until the Columbia Board of Health and the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission could weigh in. Hoppe and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp voted against tabling it.

The ordinance would decriminalize cultivation of up to six plants for everyone in the city, expanding access to marijuana for medical patients. Under the ordinance, anyone caught growing up to six plants would not be subject to arrest.

Sick people would need to get a physician's recommendation to use medical marijuana. City ordinances grant protections for physicians who prescribe cannabis, though those protections do not extend to county, state and federal agencies.

Under the amendment, someone caught growing marijuana without a doctor's recommendation would have to pay a fine of up to $250. Medical patients caught growing up to six plants with a verified doctor's recommendation will be given a $50 fine.

"The only people who would be hurt by this proposal are those making money by selling marijuana," Viets said. "If you can count to six, you can enforce this law."

Under Missouri's current state statutes, there is no distinction between cultivation for personal use and commercial distribution. According to the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws' website, a first-time offender cultivating marijuana could face between five and 15 years in prison under Missouri state laws.

Personal testimonies such as Hardin's didn't persuade everyone.

"This is a public safety and health issue," said Heather Harlan, a certified prevention specialist. "Passage (of this amendment) would send a clear message that we don't think there is anything dangerous with this drug."

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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