Columbia Public Schools opposes proposed marijuana decriminalization

Saturday, August 2, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools opposes an amendment to the city's marijuana laws because it thinks the change could impede the district's mission to provide excellent education for its students.

District Superintendent Peter Stiepleman sent a letter to Mayor Bob McDavid and the Columbia City Council to express the district's support for the Substance Abuse Advisory Council's opposition to the proposed amendment.

The proposed amendment, sponsored by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe and submitted by local attorney and marijuana activist Dan Viets, would decriminalize cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for personal use by an adult.If caught, a resident would be issued a fine rather than be criminally charged. Under state law, the manufacture of a controlled substance is a felony.

Because the district receives federal funding for drug and alcohol prevention programs and because marijuana cultivation is illegal under state and federal law, it will not support the amendment, Stiepleman wrote.

The district's letter is one of five included in the supporting documentation for the amendment, which can be found on the city's website.

The council tabled the proposal on April 7 so four advisory boards — the Substance Abuse Advisory Council, the Board of Health, the Disabilities Commission and the Human Rights Commission — could provide the council with feedback on the proposal's impact on Columbia. The council could vote on or table the amendment Monday.

Hoppe has requested that the council table the amendment until the Oct. 6 council meeting. She said in an email that tabling it would allow more university students and faculty to be in Columbia and participate in the public hearing. She also said Monday's agenda was full of other topics.

"Our meeting on Monday will already be full as it is and this item will have lots of people wanting to comment," she said. "It would be better to place it on the agenda after the budget hearings which will be in September."

Both Viets and Hoppe said they are working together to address concerns raised by the advisory boards.

Substance Abuse Advisory Council

The Substance Abuse Advisory Council voted 6-3 to oppose the amendment at its July 9 meeting, citing the following concerns:

  • According to draft minutes of the meeting, several board members said the amendment needs to be considered at the state and federal level before the city considers it.
  • Commissioner Kim Dude mentioned studies that show the detrimental effects marijuana can have on students' brains and learning abilities.
  • Children may consider marijuana more acceptable if the laws are liberalized. 

Human Rights Commission

  • According to the Human Rights Commission's letter to council, the board is in favor of ordinance changes that could help reduce discrimination with felony drug charges.

  • The board reported there is a racial discrepancy in marijuana arrests in Missouri.
  • Black and white people report using marijuana at approximately the same rate, but black residents are arrested more often for marijuana-related offenses.

Board of Health

The Board of Health voted 8-1 at its July 10 meeting to oppose the amendment, citing the following concerns:

  • Inconsistency with the state law will create confusion among Columbia residents.
  • The cultivation of up to six marijuana plants could conflict with the existing city ordinance that decriminalizes possession of marijuana less than 35 grams.
  • The board said that if it were passed, the amendment would "dramatically increase" the amount of marijuana circulating the community.
  • Columbia does not have the infrastructure to support the amendment and too many health concerns are left unanswered in the amendment.
  • The letter said the amendment does not discuss whether surrogate growers would be allowed to grow for residents who were too ill or physically unable to grow on their own.

Disabilities Commission

Disabilities Commission did not take a position on the amendment, according to the letter it submitted to the council.

"While evidence gathered by the Commission tends to support that it is potentially beneficial for medical uses for people with disabilities, the members generally felt they lacked the professional capacity to make a recommendation one way or the other," commission Chairman Chuck Graham wrote.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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