The City Council voted against two proposed ordinances Monday — one regarding medical marijuana and the other lowering penalties for those possessing small amounts of marijuana — but decided unanimously to send the initiatives to a special election on Nov. 2.
The vote came after petitions were filed by the Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education. The two petitions were certified by City Clerk Sheela Amin in mid-July.
The council was split with a 3-3 vote on whether to dismiss charges against people caught with marijuana if they receive approval for use from their doctor. Mayor Darwin Hindman was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.
Heather De Mian spoke in front of the council and detailed the merits of the bill.
De Mian suffers from vascular type Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and has been in chronic pain all of her life. The syndrome is a group of inherited disorders that affect connective tissue, leaving blood vessels and organs prone to tearing. She has seven prescriptions and takes 15 to 25 pills daily.
“The state pays $32,000 each year in Medicaid for just two of my prescriptions,” she said. “If I were allowed to grow my own marijuana, the state would save $32,000.”
Her mother, Lana Jacobs, added, “I find it painful to watch my daughter suffer when something so simple could save her life.”
Most questions posed by the City Council pertained to the legal ramifications of passing a city ordinance that would conflict with state and federal law. Dan Viets, a lawyer and board member of Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education, argued that the city has the authority to mandate dismissal of charges.
He said city prosecutors and police already have discretion in which cases they do or do not prosecute, and he is just looking to put into law what is already put into practice.
“Most judges do take (medicinal use) into account,” he said. “But some still feel compelled to enforce the law as written.”
Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash opposed medical marijuana but voted in favor of sending the initiative to a vote. “If the people are in favor of it,” he said, “then that is their prerogative.”
However, Ash was concerned primarily with the message he thought it would send.
“We don’t want people to think that Columbia is the city where you just get a slap on the wrist,” he said.
Third Ward Councilman Bob Hutton, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said he was still concerned with its vague construction, and Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless said he thinks it has been suppressed thus far purely for political reasons.
The second bill called for steering misdemeanor marijuana possession cases to Municipal Court, which would retain the power to impose fines of up to $250. The ordinance would prohibit jail time.
Supporters of the bill addressed the ability of conviction in a state court to render students ineligible for financial aid and said it deprived students of being able to complete their education.
“This is doing nothing but condemning them to the life they are living at that moment,” said Sterling Need, a Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education representative.
Loveless took issue with the appeals that students were being denied financial aid. He contended that they are knowingly breaking the law and therefore forfeiting the aid.
First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton was the only council member to vote in favor of the bill but redirected the motivation for doing so from the welfare of students to that of people in public housing and on government assistance.
She said they can be evicted and denied assistance if their address is connected to a marijuana conviction in state court.
“This is a class issue across the board,” she said.
Members of the alliance said they look forward to the vote on Nov. 2 and will promote their cause in the meantime. Voters last year voted down a similar initiative 58 percent to 42 percent.
Also Monday, the council voted to table a vote on the rezoning of Green Meadows. The council plans to vote on the measure at its Sept. 7 meeting.