Local groups asking for signatures on marijuana legislation

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COLUMBIA – Local organizations are pushing this October and November for signatures on a petition to decrease the punishment on cannabis cultivation in Columbia.

The petition would create a new ordinance making cannabis cultivation a municipal offense. This would mean offenders would only pay a fine, rather than serve jail time.

The current punishment for cannabis cultivation is 5 to 15 years in jail.

Mid-Missouri NORML president Josh Chittum said decriminalizing cannabis cultivation is one way to decrease drug-related crimes. 

"The fact is the American public is just tired of seeing their friends, mothers, fathers, brother sisters, daughters, what have you, being put in a cage over a plant that we know is non-toxic and ultimately not near as harmful as some of the scare tactics we were fed," Chittum said. 

Columbia resident Bridget Brady said she doesn't support the push toward lessening marijuana laws because she doesn't think decriminalizing cannabis cultivation will decrease drug usage.

"I think especially if it's still legal in the state, just fining somebody for it, it's not going to stop people from smoking marijuana at all if it's just a money fine, they'll just take the fine," Brady said.

Dan Viets, a lawyer in Columbia and board member of Missouri NORML, said he deals with many cases regarding cannabis cultivation. He said he doesn’t believe people should be punished so harshly for only growing a small number of plants.

“They face the prospect of becoming felons for the rest of their lives and losing a lot of options in life...right now the law provides an incentive for people to patronize drug dealers instead of just growing a little garden for themselves. It makes no sense," Viets said.

Brady said she suffers from chronic migraines but would never consider medicinal marijuana as an option, even if the ordinance is passed.

 “It's not something that ever interested me as an option for treating it just because one of the big things that does upset or trigger my migraines is smoke,” Brady said.

The ordinance needs more than 300 thousand signatures according to Chittum. If the petition gets enough signatures, the proposed ordinance would go on the November 2016 ballot.

The Columbia City Council voted against the ordinance in a 4-3 vote in 2014.

Activists are also asking people to sign a second statewide petition legalizing marijuana for medicinal use statewide.