Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Columbia lightens up on marijuana use

Some in Lawrence support drug law changes

June 13, 2005


Simply put, Columbia, Mo., is a pretty good place these days to smoke a joint.

For that, Columbia residents have Amanda Broz to thank.

Broz's story started with a busted tail light. But that soon turned into a more serious problem for the University of Missouri student.

When the police officer who had pulled her over smelled the scent of marijuana, it was only a matter of time before he found the small amount of pot in her vehicle. After that came handcuffs and a trip to county jail.

A realization, though, also came Broz's way. She didn't deserve this, she thought.

"It was so dehumanizing," Broz said. "They take away all of your possessions. Make you take your shoes off, take your jewelry off. They do the extra, extra thorough body search. I thought this was ridiculous. I'm a good person and I don't feel like I've committed a crime, and I'm not hurting anyone."

That was in the late 1990s in a county just outside the Columbia area. When Broz returned to Columbia, home of the University of Missouri, she decided to help start a public referendum process to decriminalize marijuana possession.

With about 60 percent support, voters last November approved a measure that prohibits Columbia police officers from arresting anyone for simple marijuana possession. That means anyone found with less than an ounce and a quarter of marijuana can only be given a summons to appear in the city's municipal court. Police officers no longer have the discretion to refer the case to the district attorney for prosecution by the state. Once in municipal court, the maximum fine that can be levied is $250, regardless of whether the defendant is a first-time offender or has been arrested multiple times.

An unidentified person in Columbia, Mo., smokes marijuana. Voters last November approved a measure that prohibits Columbia police officers from arresting anyone for simple marijuana possession.

An unidentified person in Columbia, Mo., smokes marijuana. Voters last November approved a measure that prohibits Columbia police officers from arresting anyone for simple marijuana possession.

Can such a change be on the horizon for Lawrence?

Currently, first-time offenders in Lawrence can be jailed. They also routinely face fines and court costs that total more than $500 and are ordered to attend drug and alcohol counseling. Second-time offenders run the risk of receiving a felony record.

Mayor Boog Highberger said he's open to the type of changes Columbia has made.

"I think putting people in jail for smoking marijuana is a misuse of our resources," Highberger said.

Smoldering in Lawrence?

But whether Lawrence or state marijuana advocates actively push for similar changes in local law is an open question. The issue came up quietly during the last City Commission election when someone regularly asked candidates about the issue during online chats sponsored by the Journal-World. The issue re-emerged during an online chat with the mayor in April.

Some of the city's more vocal marijuana advocates, though, said they hadn't organized any effort to change the law in Lawrence. Thomas Trower - who, along with longtime advocate Mark Creamer, stages "Honk for Hemp" rallies most Sundays at 11th and Massachusetts streets - said Kansas was just too conservative for meaningful marijuana laws to gain any traction.

"Kansas will be right before Texas and Louisiana in loosening drug laws," Trower said. "We're just so conservative. We'll be toward the end of the line."

But advocates would find an open ear in Highberger. Highberger said a change of marijuana laws was not currently on his agenda, but he was sympathetic to the idea.

"I think marijuana could be treated more like alcohol or tobacco instead of like really dangerous drugs like crack or heroin," Highberger said. "I think it is something worth considering."

Whether the idea would receive support from other key groups in the city is uncertain. Sgt. Dan Ward, a spokesman with the Lawrence Police Department, said the department wasn't yet taking a position on the issue.

"We don't make the laws and the ordinances," Ward said. "We just would enforce what we were given."

Dist. Atty. Charles Branson said he would want to read a specific proposal before ruling anything out, but he said he generally thought the current practices in Lawrence - which generally allow first-time offenders to keep their convictions off their records through a diversion agreement - were working well. Branson said he liked that the Lawrence system required people who needed help to get counseling, and also provided a significant monetary incentive for people to not break the law.

Wrong message

Lawrence leaders should be careful in considering a Columbia model, said Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm. Columbia police officers have found the law changes troubling because they feel they don't have adequate tools to deal with multiple offenders.

Columbia, Mo., police chief Randy Boehm has some concerns about his city's new marijuana ordinance, and would like it repealed by voters. He wants his officers to have the ability to arrest people and send them to state court, especially if it's their second or third offense.

Columbia, Mo., police chief Randy Boehm has some concerns about his city's new marijuana ordinance, and would like it repealed by voters. He wants his officers to have the ability to arrest people and send them to state court, especially if it's their second or third offense.

"The whole purpose of the system is to correct people's behavior," Boehm said. "We try municipal court the first time and if that works, then great. But if that doesn't, then we want to be able to try something else, and now we can't."

Not only are many marijuana users not going to jail, but many are also not being fined or subjected to other forms of punishment. That's because there is language in the ordinance that promotes leniency on the part of prosecutors where appropriate. That means most first-time offenders are never prosecuted unless they're involved in some other sort of crime within the year, said Rose Wibbenmeyer, city prosecutor.

During the first six months following the ordinance, Wibbenmeyer said her office received about 350 marijuana cases, but she reviewed fewer than 10 of them for possible charges because the persons couldn't stay out of trouble.

Broz sees all of that as a positive. The ordinance frees up time for the police and the courts to deal with serious problems, she said.

"I think a lot of people are saying marijuana isn't something the police should be focusing on," Broz said. "We have a lot of other problems in our community that we should be focusing our resources on."

Boehm isn't so sure that the community is pleased with the law. Members of the Columbia Police Officers Assn. are circulating a petition in an attempt to have the issue put back on the ballot and repealed. He said people needed to understand the risk of marijuana use leading to other, more serious offenses.

"I'm not suggesting that everyone who uses marijuana is going to go on to use harsher drugs," Boehm said. "But I have been in law enforcement for a little over 28 years, and I have not ever heard of or talked to a drug user using harsh drugs who hasn't said they started with marijuana."

Supporters of Columbia's new ordinance are optimistic voters will disagree if asked to decide the issue again.

"That argument is bull****," said Dan Viets, a Columbia defense attorney who was a key organizer of the referendum issue. "Most people realize that using marijuana never caused people to use heroin."


redbird 13 years ago

It is about time.... haven't smoked in almost 20 years,but always thought that these laws were ridiculous.Let it grow,smoke it...and hell no it does not lead you to harder drugs,it is the weak mind that succumbs to hard drugs!!!

Jay Bird 13 years ago

I would think that Lawrence would let this pass in a heart beat. We are so laid back. The whole gay's right to marry thing, now this. Weed should be treated like booze. Tax the hell out of it if you want. I bet we'd have better parks and more of those nice round-abouts. I know alot of people who have tried weed, but left coke and meth alone.

Richard Heckler 13 years ago

Actually most hard drug users probaly started with tobacco,alcohol or coffee. Throwing pot smokers in jail and using court time is absurd. We have all sorts of sexual predators,killers and people who like to beat up their spouses that need the special attention from law enforcement. Repeat drunk drivers could use some special attention.

Decriminalize and allow people to grow their own. In doing so there is a whole new cash crop for farmers and a material source for the domestic textile industry. Let's create new jobs.

conservative 13 years ago

What! Are you all on pot? (I guess since you support this you probably are).

Doesn't anyone recognize that this person who is being held up as a role model for reducing the sentences for pot was DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE!

The fact that everyone is overlooking this is exactly why it scares me so much that we might lessen the sentence for people using illegal drugs.

ksmattfish 13 years ago

"Doesn't anyone recognize that this person who is being held up as a role model for reducing the sentences for pot was DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE!"

No one says the DUI laws should be changed. They apply to all drugs that impair the ability to drive: booze, pot, cold medicine....

If the officer/DA didn't charge her with DUI, then they must have felt she wasn't impaired. The issue here is the law regarding possession of marijuana. Changing that law doesn't change any other law, or make it legal to break other laws while high on marijuana.

righthand 13 years ago

Well, I'm no expert. I have never smoked or "inhaled" pot. However, I have been around it often, witnessed its use and even seen the different types: good vs. bad according to my expert friends, at the time. In summary of my personal experiences, people who smoke pot on a regular basis, not those who try it at a party or a concert, again, those who use it on a regular basis, have several questionable behaviors. Smoking pot is a deviant behavior, simply put. Be honest folks. I could venture a guess that our Mayor is ok with it because... well, you can probably finish the statement. What will happen if they relax the laws is that you will start to see real pot smokers lighting up in the parks and on Mass, daring the authorities to do something and, if they do, they'll deal with it in no different way than they would a speeding ticket, but with no fear of ever losing anything. At least when you speed too many times you can lose your driver's license. Now, let me get this straight... you can get pulled over for speeding, get a ticket for not wearing your seat belt, and get slapped on the wrist for getting high - as many times as you like - wow, party on, dude. Smoking cigarettes is bad, smoking pot is... good! Hmmm, maybe we've slipped into Bizarro World, Supeman.

silverliving 13 years ago

i dont think theres really much of a case to be made that prosecuting marijuana does anyone any good. It's a serious waste of taxpayer money and it is really none of the governement's business.

Speaking of Bizarro World, what about half of us being on prescription psychotropic drugs all the time. Marijuana sort of regulates itself ... it's just not for everyone, legal or not. But when a doctor tells you that you NEED paxil to be happy, thats a lot more dangerous.

lets grow up as a society people. decriminalize marijuana once and for all.

righthand 13 years ago

Ok, I guess I didn't cut to it clearly enough. Everyone I've ever known who regularly uses pot is basically a loser! Give me a break. You all sound soooo independent, reasonable and calm. "to each his own... what's the harm?... let's punish REAL crimes!" Blah, blah, blah. Same old 1960's song and dance. Why don't you add to it "their going to do it anyway so..." I've never heard that before either. Archaic, outdated nonsense. Psychotic drugs? That's a stretch. Wow. I thought I was going off the deep end. I guarantee... I'll bet my mortgage on it. You soften the laws, make it easier, in time the "casual users will be smoking J's in the park next to the pool while kids are there. It's one thing for a 35 year-old to light up a mind-altering substance alone in their home, it's entirely different for kids to have to filter that exposure tthrough their stream of consciousness. I thought we needed to vote for Lawrence kids. That's what all the signs say every election season. C'mon, folks, you can't have it both ways. You have to stand on principal. Just because you were at a party once, smoked a little pot and later told your friends you really didn't get anything out of it because you were actually smoking Billy's home grown weed from his back yard doesn't mean you truly understand the harms. I find it really hard to be impressed with intellectual attempts at defending pot use. To me that is quite odd. It really is all about getting high, right? How important is that? Is it worth it? Man, I suppose I'm not with it. Oh, gods of mediocrity, please help me to be more middle of the road, I beg you!

wichita_reader 13 years ago

From, just to clear up righthand's confusion.

psychotro*pic adj.--Having an altering effect on perception, emotion, or behavior. Used especially of a drug.

n.--A psychotropic drug or other agent.

psychotic adj.--Of, relating to, or affected by psychosis. n.--A person affected by psychosis

psychosis n.--A severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning.

brahl 13 years ago

You want a law to be afraid of, be afraid of the patriot act

bkt_1977 13 years ago

"The ONLY problem that I see with this is that potheads will swarm here like the homeless trash!"

Offtotheright, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Just because another human being has fewer resources and greater hardships than you do, you consider them TRASH?! No one is exempt from the possibility that they will lose their job, suffer from poor physical or mental health, suddenly have a sick child or parent, divorce or other strain on their financial wellbeing that will leave them strapped or even destitute. Without affordable and accessible healthcare, without reasonably priced education and job training, without an adequate number of jobs available, it is not surprising that many good people find themselves on the streets. Forced to ask for help, and lacking the transportation, clothing and other resources that would aid them in bettering their situation, the homeless face a bleak and demoralizing future without the support and compassion of more fortunate citizens. The only thing that separates you from them is better luck and a lack of basic decency.

ssauble 13 years ago

I've seen more individuals lives ruined by Paxil being misadministered than through occasional marijuana use.

Hong_Kong_Phooey 13 years ago

bkt_1977: You ought to open your eyes. The majority of the homeless people now lounging around on Mass. Street are 20-something slackers that are either too lazy to work, trying to "find themselves", or don't believe in the capitalist system (though they don't mind benefitting from the change of those folks that do). People in this town want to worry about something, then worry about how Mass. St. is looking like the world's largest homeless convention. They are ruining the downtown that so many residents tout as being one of the best things about Lawrence. How many visitors are going to want to go walk/shop on Mass when they've got some jackass in black jeans, combat boots, an Anthrax t-shirt and dirty hair begging them for some "spare change" every block.

Universe 13 years ago

Oh goodie; legalizing pot so hippie liberals will actually have an excuse to be addicts. Hong_Kong_Phooey; I agree with you however I do like the group Anthrax. :)

neopolss 13 years ago

righthand -

You've been believing everything you've been told. You have a negative conotation about pot, and therefore have decided that no one should use it. Since you are an expert, perhaps then you can reason with me. By what policy is the government given a license to distinguish between legal and illegal drugs? At what point is it okay that the individual does not have rule over what they place into their body, harmful or not? You see, that's a big problem. Despite what your opinion of pot is, whether it is harmful or not, the individual still should have choice over what harm they choose to inflict on themselves. If one cannot rule over oneself, then our society has simply crossed the line in its crusade of "public safety."

I can drink an entire bottle of CLR, which would most likely kill me, legally. I cannot smoke pot. I can drink coffee, which contains harnful caffeine, but not cannabis. I can take ibprofin or drink heavily, legally. Where is the difference? And what makes it your concern?

Pot is legal in many European countries, yet the results all show the same. The is no significant increase or decrease in usage of pot. Your slippery slope arguments of people smokings J's in the pool area are ridiculous. Despite the dispute of the smoking ban, many here still obey the law. If pot were legal, you can bet there would be laws governing its place of usage.

You asked for an intelligent response for usage of pot. I have never and probably will never use pot. I hate the smell mostly. However, I value freedoms and rights above all else, and the right of an individual over oneself is an important one. It's also not within the business of government to be determining good and bad drugs. The whole idea is absurd.

Face it. The war on drugs failed, it's time to relearn about good and bad drugs, and instead learn about overuse and moderation.

Universe 13 years ago

neopolss: Very true; if you drink a bottle of CLR you just might be harming yourself; but what ya seem to be conveniently forgetting is inhaling/drinking intoxicating susbances can lead to harming OTHERS. Ever heard of drunk driving? Hells bells it must be safer to be driving high, no? Thats what makes it the concern of the opposition.. Put that in the pipe and smoke it 8)

Richard Heckler 13 years ago

There is no data base that proves smoking pot is's all speculation.
People do valiums, diet drugs,tobacco, coffee,soda pop, alcohol every day all of which are addictive. A person can become mentally or physically addictive to many many things even food. If a person is mentally challenged in some form any one or all of the above can have an effect.

As I see it most of the arguments against the use of pot are without foundation. Hell I do not believe anyone should smoke pot during their most formative years however that philosophy too is without foundation.

The bottom line is treatment for addiction should be the rule of the day not jail.

David Albertson 13 years ago

If only these narrow minded conservatives knew........they're already on the road with stoned drivers. It amazes me that anyone would compare stoned driving to drunk driving. It's apples and oranges folks.

Universe 13 years ago

Ahh, but you liberals make it far too easy for us to 'know' exacly where you stand on everything.. It's 100% on the WRONG side. Let me explain this to you yet again; It's called being mentally impared. Apples/Apples.. Hmm. But hell, since we're surrounded by addicts why not legalize eh? lol

If liberals only 'knew'. Last I checked the GOP pretty much runs everything - why? Because they WON elections. You know, if I were a democrat I'd figuring out why instead of following the destructive kooks.

Have a nice day now. :)

katethegreat 13 years ago

Didn't I read somewhere that you'd have to smoke 100 pounds of pot in 15 minutes to consume a lethal dose? Maybe in Refer Madness or something.

I know plenty of potheads who live normal lives. If you want to understand how little pot really effects you...listen to some Bill Hicks. I have rhumetoid arthritis...let me tell you...pot doesn't take away all the pain, but it helps take my mind off of it if only for a little while.

I agree with Boog about pot being similar to alcohol. But better in many ways. I do not feel you should opperate heavy machinery high or drunk. Nor do I feel children should be around it.

I had a friend that FELT 'violent' in his mind when he would smoke occasionally. So he just doesn't smoke anymore. I guarantee alcohol makes people feel violent more often than pot does. IF you don't like it...don't do it. It's a good pastime for some people. Just like drinking alcohol.

I don't know if Kansas has anything to do with why something like this law wouldn't pass. It's clearly a county thing in Columbia. Douglas county is incredibly liberal. I know more smokers than non-smokers and i've lived here 4 years. I have no doubt that we could pass something like this. But would it be worth it?

I have a feeling this awesome law in Columbia will soon be shut down by the feds. Just like the 11 states that are now being told it's illegal to prescribe medicinal marijuana.

Go figure. The right wins again!

Delilah 13 years ago

Did prohibition work? What happened when alcohol was made illegal? Most pot smokers are just that, pot smokers. Not degenerates or hippies. We hold down good jobs and pay our taxes. We don't live on street corners or beg for change. As far as pot smokers lighting up in parks and at the pool, common! We're not talking about unregulated pot smoking mania! Just the legal right to make the choice like we do with booze and cigarettes. Am I a liberal? Damn right! OH and one more thing. The republicans make a VERY valid point. They turned out to vote, we failed because we didn't. Thats a shame.

blakus 13 years ago

The generalizations made in many of these comments make me cringe. I think the law passed in Columbia, Mo. is a positive step. Why? The war on drugs has failed. The 2002 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) showed that an estimated 40.4% (94.9 million) of Americans age 12 or older had used marijuana or hashish in their lifetime, 11% (25.8 million) had used it in the past year Obviously no law will stop many from smoking pot. The people who claim themselves to be towards the right forget that our beloved president got into some 'hardcore' drugs yet he has managed to be quite successful in some terms. If one can justify to me why marijuana is negative towards our society (other than the hippie-fying or liberalization of America) I would listen and seriously debate the issue. But I have yet to hear anything of real substance. In terms of implenting a similar law in Lawrence, I would have to say let first time offenders off with a fine. Order second-time offenders to counseling. Jail is not an option, or we might have 30 million ordinary folks in jail. The funny thing is I know many people who have been caught smoking pot by Lawrence police and have only had there marijuana confiscated and slapped with a warning. Ideoligies are much stronger than laws here in Lawrence.

EMB 13 years ago

"casual users will be smoking J's in the park next to the pool while kids are there.

I'm sorry to inform you RIGHTHAND, but it is not the casual users outside the public pool lighting up; actually, I'm not sorry, this is something you and everyone of Lawrence should know. As a former employee of the city, I witnessed firsthand for three years the behavior of Lawrence kids, and being a Lawrence kid myself, I never in my life thought that children could behave like. The public pool has now become the down town day care for some parents to drop off there kids an hour before open to be picked up an hour after closing. I quit my job in disgust of the anarchy and chaos I surrounded myself in. The first direct step to helping the kids of Lawrence begins with the parents. Negligent, carelessness, and lack of love and affection are a part of what turns kids to drug use; not "SOFTENED LAWS." You are missing the point of what this law will in turn do for the community. It will strengthen the relationship between the law enforcement and citizens and give a greater opportunity for first time offenders. And please, do not make so many assumptions against persons you have never met. "Just because you were at a party once, smoked a little pot and later told your friends you really didn't get anything out of it because you were actually smoking Billy's home grown weed from his back yard doesn't mean you truly understand the harms." I've been to school, and they drill into you the harmful affects of drug use. Persons are fully warned of the different aspects of drug use. And if they don't comprehend, negligent, carelessness, and lack of love and affection come back into the role of understanding.

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