Activist group writes revised pot initiative

NORML is petitioning to get it on the November ballot.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:43 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is back at it — trying to get a new version of the previously defeated Proposition 1 on the November ballot.

Proposition 1, which was defeated last April, asked that marijuana be legalized for medical purposes, that fines be reduced to $25 for the possession of 35 grams or less and that those cases be referred to the municipal prosecuting attorney.

The new version of the proposition is split into two separate initiatives.

The first initiative — legalization of marijuana for medical use — is nearly identical to last April’s Proposition 1.

One difference is that, if the legalization of medical use of marijuana is found unconstitutional, a new provision would allow those found with 35 grams or less to be charged up to $50 and community service.

The second initiative accounts for the major changes to the proposition.

Proposition 1 asked that fines be changed from $1,000 and up to a year in jail — currently the penalty for having 35 grams or less — to $25 for the possession of 35 grams or less and that such cases be handled in municipal court.

The new initiative would allow only municipal courts to decide the fine, up to $250, with no jail time and a possibility of community service in addition to the fine.

“The courts generally fine people $200 or less now,” said Dan Viets, a lawyer working with NORML. “This would allow for an even higher fine.”

One reason NORML wants all cases to end up in municipal court has to do with student financial aid. A student receiving financial aid who is charged with drug possession in state court has the charge placed on his or her permanent record. Under federal law, students charged with drug offenses can have their financial aid revoked.

“There are a lot of class issues involved,” Neeb said. “Poor people are being affected more, which is unfair.”

Police Chief Randy Boehm is against the new initiatives.

He said setting the fine at $250 takes away the court’s discretion of imposing a larger fine.

NORML is still gathering signatures for each of the new initiatives.

The group had a booth at Sunday’s Earth Day festivities and collected signatures for both initiatives. Only registered Columbia voters are allowed to sign the petitions.

Proposition 1 required 1,200 signatures to get on the ballot. This year, NORML needs 2,276 votes, or 20 percent of the amount of voters from the last election.

NORML must submit signatures to the city clerk’s office by late June so that the ordinances can be introduced on August 2, said city clerk employee Sherry Walker.

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