Springfield News-Leader (Missouri)
BYLINE: By, Michael Gulledge
Three area stores are helping in the petition drive to decriminalize marijuana in Springfield.
Bilbo’s Earth Store on Highway FF and Republic Road had a petition on a counter for customers to sign Wednesday. Mr. Eddies Headies, on South Avenue near Center City, and Good Vibes on West College Street are also currently pushing for signatures.
“Our goal here is to lessen penalties,”said Show-Me Cannabis Regulation board member Maranda Reynolds. The petitions were first distributed a week ago and Reynolds said she’s still talking with businesses to display the petition.
It requests an amendment to an existing ordinance so adults are not arrested and only face a fine, community service or counseling for possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. The most severe penalty would be a fine of up to $150.
City Attorney Dan Wichmer said he reviewed the proposed changes to the ordinance and doesn’t believe they would be legal, though he’s still doing research on the matter.
“I believe it conflicts state and federal law,” he said, although illegal language wouldn’t stop the proposal from going to a vote if enough signatures are gathered. “That’s council’s call and I’m still looking into it.”
Reynolds said the proposed Springfield changes are modeled after Columbia’s successful petition.
In 2004, Columbia voters approved a similar law that classifies possession of 35 grams of marijuana or less as a low-level misdemeanor offense.
“We gave it to the city attorney to look at, but he never got back to us explaining why he thought there was a problem,” Reynolds said.
Current penalties can impact eligibility for college aid, Reynolds said. “Most of us need loans, grants, work-study money.”
“Another thing that this will do for us is save police resources,” she said. “Arrest and detainment for possession of marijuana is just a waste.”
Reynolds said she doesn’t think getting the signatures to put the measure on the ballot will be an issue.
“We’ve got support from the shops and we’ve also got a donor that’s helping pay petitioners to gather signatures,” she said. Reynolds is asking for local donors to contribute as well.
The donor is the National Cannabis Coalition, which has agreed to match locally-collected funds.
Show-Me Cannabis’ goal is to get the issue on the November ballot. The final certification date for the November election is Aug. 28, but the petition first must be certified by the City Clerk’s office and go through the City Council – a process that can take a month or more.
Petitioners need just 2,101 signatures from registered Springfield voters to put the issue before City Council, which either can approve the petition as-is or send it to a public vote.
Proposed amendments to the City Charter that are scheduled to appear on city ballots in August could raise the bar for future petitions, increasing the number of signatures required as well as requiring additional review by city staff.
Wichmer said that, because the marijuana petition process has begun, the current rules will continue to apply to the petition even if the charter changes are approved.
Efforts by Show-Me Cannabis to put a statewide pot initiative on the November ballot fell short.
A 2008 effort to decriminalize marijuana in Joplin fell 531 names short, and the statewide measure failed to garner the roughly 144,000 voter signatures needed before an early May deadline.
Reynolds, a Springfield resident and native, said she hopes the petition will show the voters people would like to see laws concerning marijuana changed.
“This is just a step in changing laws around the state,” she said.
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