City Council revises pot ordinance

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The city’s marijuana ordinance was tightened after the City Council approved a revision with a 6-1 vote Monday night.

Under the revisions, decriminalization of the possession of the drug no longer applies to repeat offenders, including those found guilty of a felony in the last 10 years, a Class A misdemeanor other than a charge for possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia, or a person who has had two or more prior marijuana convictions in the last five years.

“There should not be a one-size-fits-all standard when it comes to marijuana offenders,” Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane said.

The ordinance, which originally deferred prosecution and limited the fine to $250 for possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana, was passed by Columbia voters in November 2004. It has been criticized by the Columbia Police Officers Associaion since its inception.

A controversial change to the ordinance was the deletion of the reference to deferment of prosecution. A report from the city attorney’s office predicted that under this change, no marijuana cases will be deferred. The expected increase in city prosecutors’ workloads caused concern among council members. Defense attorney Dan Viets, who represents the Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education, and Crane assured the council that city prosecutors still have the choice whether to defer prosecution. Viet’s organization spurred the original ordinance.

Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash, who voted against the ordinance changes, questioned whether the City Council had the right to change the ordinance without voters’ approval.

Others were satisfied with the changes that became effective upon the City Council’s approval.

“I believe it’s for the best and hope this will put the issue to rest,” said Bailey Hirschburg, president of the MU chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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