Two initiatives to reduce punishments for misdemeanor marijuana possession took another step toward becoming law last week while a third initiative dealing with the purchase of “green” energy took a step back.
The two marijuana initiatives were certified by City Clerk Sheela Amin, but the energy initiative was 138 signatures short. However, it still has a chance to go before the Columbia City Council. Amin said petitioners had 10 days from the time they were informed of the shortage to collect the needed amount of signatures. The deadline is Sunday.
Each petition required 2,276 valid signatures. Amin said the council will be presented with the initiatives no later than Aug. 16.
The Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education sponsored the marijuana initiatives. The first initiative calls for dismissing charges against people caught with marijuana if they receive approval for use from their doctor. Petitioners collected 412 more signatures than were needed.
The second petition calls for giving misdemeanor marijuana possession cases to Municipal Court. The court would retain the power to impose fines of up to $250. Jail time would be prohibited. Petitioners collected 121 extra signatures than were needed.
Dan Viets, a member of CAPE, said he is pleased that they don’t have to collect more signatures. Viets said once the issues go through city council, the organization will engage in a public education campaign to prepare for the Nov. 2 election.
“We will work to dispel misunderstandings about the issue,” he said.
City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said misdemeanor charges — possession of 35 grams or less — are currently a violation of state and local law. He said these two initiatives would only apply to cases within the Columbia city limits.
“We obviously can’t undo federal or state law,” he said.
In April 2003, voters failed to pass a similar initiative by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.
The green energy initiative calls for increasing the amount of renewable energy the city uses starting in 2007 and gradually increasing it through 2022. However, electric rates wouldn’t be allowed to increase by more than 3 percent.
Petitioners collected 2,138 of the 2,276 valid signatures required. The petition had a 78 percent validity rate.
Chris Hayday, a member of Columbians for Clean Energy, which sponsored the initiative along with the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters, said the cause for the shortage of valid signatures was the duplication of many names. He said when someone signs twice, both signatures are thrown out.
Hayday said he doesn’t expect the shortage to be a problem, however. The group saved backup pages of signatures in case they fell short. Petitioners also went out last weekend to collect more.
“We know we’re going to make it,” Hayday said.