With the passage of two marijuana-related initiatives Tuesday, Columbia voters have placed the city on the progressive edge of drug-law reform in the United States.
With more than half the ballots tallied, voters were approving Proposition 1 69 percent to 31 percent as of press time. The measure makes it legal for chronically ill patients to possess and use marijuana with a doctor’s consent. Physicians who prescribe marijuana to patients will no longer face arrest and prosecution.
Supporters of the measure were elated with the results, which represent a landmark in Missouri.
“This result shows that these issues aren’t partisan; people recognize that these laws affect all of us,” said Amber Langston, campaign manager for the Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education, one of the initiative’s sponsors.
The ordinance that will now go into effect, however, does not include a way for patients to lawfully acquire marijuana, meaning they will still be forced to purchase the drug on the street. Proponents are hoping to introduce a bill in the General Assembly that would allow patients who have been prescribed marijuana by a doctor to obtain the drug legally.
“Hopefully, a statewide medical initiative would be the next step,” said Jim Bob Schell, a member of the MU chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “It’s nice that people in Columbia want this, but we need to keep it going.”
Proponents were optimistic that legislators would be supportive.
“I’m hopeful that people are compassionate to the seriously ill,” said the organization’s president, Amanda Broz.
Proposition 2, a decriminalization initiative stipulating that misdemeanor marijuana cases be tried in Municipal Court and punishable by a maximum fine of $250, was passing 60 percent to 40 percent.
Schell hailed its passage as a victory in the war against what some see as unfair drug laws.
“What (its passage) says is that people of Columbia believe possession shouldn’t be a jailable offense,” Schell said. “And it certainly shouldn’t minimize somebody’s ability to go to college.”
Proposition 2 was drafted in response to the Higher Education Act, a 1998 law that revokes federal education funding for anyone convicted of a drug-related charge.
Voters turned out in droves to support the medical initiative. Guy Marsh brought a uniquely personal angle to the polls.
“I used to have to sneak my mother some pot when she was in chemotherapy to help with her nausea,” he said after casting a “yes” vote for Proposition 1.
Wes Wingate, who voted for both of the initiatives, was one of those affectedby the Higher Education Act.
“I actually lost my financial aid, and that was a big part of it for me,” Wingate said. “Columbia can be the first to have more reasonable laws. That says a lot about our town.”