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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Council tables marijuana ordinance

Councilmembers opted to suspend the vote to allow for referrals from advisory commissions and boards.

The life of the debate over Columbia’s marijuana ordinances was extended as city council members voted at Monday night’s regular meeting to table the vote on the amendment for four months while they seek further direction from public health officials.

The bill, which was introduced at a March 17 city council meeting, would amend Chapter 16 of the city’s Code of Ordinances to allow for the private cultivation of up to six plants by patients with prescriptions for medical marijuana. If passed, the new ordinance would not legalize the use or sale of marijuana for recreational use, though the drug has already been decriminalized in the city.

Before returning to the issue, City Council has asked that the ordinance be considered by the city’s Substance Abuse Advisory Commision and Board of Health.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas expressed a desire to consider input from the “appropriate advisory bodies” before making a decision on the issue. Prior to the decision to table the vote, Thomas also advocated for citizens ability to speak on the issue at future public hearings in addition to Monday’s regular meeting. Typically, citizens are only allowed to speak on a given issue once, even if the vote on the issue is postponed.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, who sponsored the proposed ordinance, echoed Thomas’s point and argued that four months was too long to ask citizens to wait before speaking their mind on the issue.

“People have sat through a long meeting with no indication that it would be tabled,” Hoppe said. “They should be able to speak at both times should it be tabled.”

Following the decision to allow for public comment on the issue at all public hearings, council members heard testimonies from various sides of the debate.

As the ordinance would make it easier for medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own drugs for medicinal purposes, it could facilitate recreational use by children, argued Prevention Specialist Heather Harlan.

“This is a public safety and health issue,” Harlan said. “Passage of this ordinance would send a clear message that we don’t think there is anything dangerous about the use of this drug.”

Attorney Dan Viets, an advocate of marijuana law reforms, argued that the increased leniency of the new ordinance would better the community all around.

“We see the damage these laws do to good people,” Viets said. “The only people who would be hurt by this proposal, frankly, are the ones who are making money selling marijuana.”

Under current state law, marijuana is considered a Schedule I Controlled Substance, along with other drugs including heroin, ecstasy and peyote. According to documents submitted to council, the proposed ordinance is not consistent with state and federal law concerning the manufacture of a controlled substance.

This discussion over the city’s marijuana ordinances follows a 2004 measure passed with more 60 percent of the citizen vote to make marijuana enforcement “the lowest law enforcement priority.”

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