Local Missouri Initiative to Appear on Ballot April 8

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by RMJL, Apr 2, 2003.

  1. Marijuana Proposition Prompts Police to Firm Up Policy

    Columbia's Police Officers Have Received More Guidance on What Is Meant by a Small Amount of Pot

    Columbia Missourian; March 23, 2003
    by Quinn O'Brien

    Even before voters see Proposition 1 on the April 8 ballot, the proposed marijuana ordinance is having an effect on how police handle possession cases.

    In January 1999, former Police Chief Norm Botsford, in conjunction with Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane, changed the department's policy toward marijuana: Anyone caught with a "small amount" would be sent to municipal court, barring extenuating circumstances such as a previous conviction or another crime being committed in conjunction with a marijuana offense.

    At the time, Botsford suggested that a "small amount" would be roughly 5 grams or less.

    Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, who opposes Proposition 1, said last week that the amount of marijuana considered a "small amount" has changed in the past couple of months to anything less than 35 grams. Previously, he said, officers used their discretion in how to handle small amounts.

    "About a month ago ... the proposed ordinance caused us to look at statistics and things of that nature," Boehm said, and police policy was "firmed up." The decision, he said, took place in a discussion with command staff.

    "The commanders put out some added direction to their command staff," Boehm said, and the officers were given a clearer idea of what to do about marijuana possession.

    Crane, who also opposes the ballot proposal, said he has no problem with Boehm's directive since an agreement was already in place to send most first-time offenders to municipal court rather than circuit court.

    Proposition 1, drafted by MU law student Anthony Johnson, would require dismissal of medicinal-marijuana charges and require that all possession cases of 35 grams or less be handled in municipal court. The proposal would impose a $25 fine for a first offense.

    While Boehm has clarified the policy for his officers, he said a "majority" of people issued a municipal summons for possession are taken to police headquarters and fingerprinted.

    "We like to have the fingerprints of anyone who is arrested on any drug charges," Boehm said. He said that the process only takes a few minutes, then the person is released.

    "In my experience, my clients have sat, handcuffed, at the Columbia Police Department for one to three hours before they are released," said Dan Viets, a local attorney and advocate of Proposition 1.

    Viets said city police usually refer charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana to municipal court - but not always.

    "Within the last two months, one of my clients was busted with about 2 grams," Viets said. "This guy had never been in trouble before, but the arresting officer ignored the chief's policy on marijuana and sent him to state court."

    Viets said he is pleased and encouraged that city police have firmed up their policy, but because it's a policy and not law it does not solve all problems that Proposition 1 is trying to address, such as safeguarding a student's financial aid by sending them to municipal court.

    Municipal cases sometimes involve a summons. Charges filed under state law, on the other hand, typically involve a trip to the Boone County Jail and a bond. State cases are handled in Boone County Circuit Court.

    Boehm said he is not clear on the language in the proposed ordinance but thinks officers would continue to be able to detain people caught with small amounts of marijuana for fingerprinting.

    "I'm not sure what their intention was," Boehm said. "Issuing a citation is an arrest."

    The Columbia Police Department made 539 arrests in 2002 for misdemeanor possession, Boehm said.

    Columbia Municipal Court Clerk Shara Meyer said 245 marijuana cases went through municipal court from January through November 2002. Because of a computer malfunction, statistics for December 2002 aren't available.

    This year, 48 misdemeanor marijuana cases had been directed to municipal court as of the end of February. Some of these resulted from arrests by the MU Police Department as well as the Columbia Police Department.

    Several people who pleaded guilty this month in municipal court to possession of less than 35 grams were fined $247.50 plus $22.50 in court costs, Meyer said, adding that the fine was typical for such cases.

    "The judge is fairly consistent," Meyer said. "As long as it is a small amount, and there are no extenuating circumstances ... like a prior record of conviction."

    (c) 2003 Columbia Missourian


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