Advisory boards oppose marijuana growing proposal

Friday, July 11, 2014 | 7:26 p.m. CDT; updated 7:12 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2014

COLUMBIA — Two city advisory boards voted against a proposal that would fine Columbia residents who grow marijuana instead of charging them with felonies.

The fine would apply to residents who only grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use.

The Board of Health voted 8-1 on Thursday night to oppose the ordinance that was tabled by the Columbia City Council in April for more input.

Board member David Sohl cited issues that included where people would find marijuana seeds, what legal issues could follow between a landlord and a renter growing marijuana and whether employers would have to write new drug policies for employees.

Columbia has nowhere near the infrastructure to support the proposed city law, Sohl said.

Local attorney and marijuana activist Dan Viets helped draft the ordinance alongside city attorney Nancy Thompson and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

The proposal would decriminalize the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants. And those exceeding that limit would face monetary consequences: People with a doctor's recommendation would only face a $50 fine, and those without would receive either a $250 fine or probation.

"Columbia has all the infrastructure we need to implement another city ordinance," Viets said.

Other members of the health board said they had fears about how the proposal would affect college students.

“We have to be particularly diligent with the public health of adolescents when considering health policies in a college town,” Lynelle Phillips said. 

Elizabeth Hussey, a veterinarian at Horton Animal Hospital and member of the board, was the lone vote in support of the proposal. Hussey said she believes issues raised by other board members were valid but "could be fixed if the underlying support is there."

The Substance Abuse Advisory Committee voted 6-3 on Wednesday afternoon against the proposal, member Mitchell Moore said.

Viets believes the decisions were based largely on a lack of understanding of how the law works.

"If you buy it, you have to seek out a drug dealer - that's a misdemeanor," Viets said. "But if you try to grow it yourself, that is 10 years to life. That's insane. Even if you think marijuana should be illegal, why would you want to enrich drug dealers as opposed to having a reasonable punishment for growing?"

Before the Aug. 4 city council meeting, the board will present its report and rationale for not supporting the ordinance.

The board expects to deliver its recommendation to the council in August.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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