As Columbia considers decriminalizing marijuana cultivation, advocates see it as a step toward eliminating what they see as a social injustice.
An amendment to city code, which was introduced at Monday night’s City Council meeting, would allow Columbia residents to possess up to six marijuana plants without the penalty of arrest or any jail time. Those with serious illnesses would face no punishment, while others could still be fined up to $250. The law would not apply to anyone selling or distributing marijuana, only to personal use.
Dan Viets, a defense attorney in Columbia, wrote the amendment and has been working with its sponsor, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, to get it passed. He works with several organizations that advocate for legalization, including the Missouri branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana and Show-Me Cannabis.
“I believe that marijuana prohibition is a horrible evil,” said Viets, who compared it to slavery in its effects on African Americans. “We have put massive numbers of our fellow Americans in jail.”
In 2004, Columbia passed a law to decriminalize marijuana possession and eliminate penalties for medical use. This new amendment follows the same format, expanding it to growing plants as well. Viets said his ultimate goal would be to “tax and regulate” marijuana, which he described as less risky than other legal substances like tobacco and alcohol.
“It’s nontoxic. No one has ever died from consuming marijuana,” Viets said.
In the medical community, the effects of recreational marijuana use are still being debated. Some studies have tied it to many of the same adverse health effects as tobacco smoking.
John Payne, the executive director of marijuana advocacy organization Show-Me Cannabis, described the amendment as “an important step forward.” His primary concern is for those with medical conditions sometimes treated with marijuana and THC, its active ingredient.
“These are people that, without cannabis, have a very low quality of life,” Payne said.
Proponents of medical marijuana say uses can include helping HIV/AIDS and cancer patients regain their appetites, treating glaucoma and potentially reducing the symptoms of conditions like epilepsy and Tourette’s syndrome.
Payne became interested in marijuana legalization in high school when he read Mike Gray’s book “Drug Crazy,” a critique of the war on drugs.
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