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Police Group Seeks To Alter City?s Pot Law Posted by CN Staff on February 27, 2005 at 09:14:54 PT By Mike Wells of the Tribune?s Staff Source: Columbia Daily Tribune
The men and women enforcing Columbia?s new marijuana ordinance would very much like to see it overturned, according to the Columbia Police Officers Association, or CPOA. But to do that, they?re asking city leaders for help.
In November, voters in the city approved two ordinances, one that allows marijuana to be used for medical purposes when prescribed by a doctor and another that limits the punishment for possessing small amounts of the drug to a $250 fine in municipal court, leaving no criminal record.
It?s the second ordinance that troubles police, said Officer Sterling Infield, president of the CPOA. He recently wrote Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig Hopkins on behalf of the association, asking city leaders to help "squash this tainted ordinance."
On Friday, Hopkins said CPOA?s request was turned over to the city?s legal department and that the Columbia City Council would be informed of it soon. She expects the city?s legal department will develop a response to the request fairly soon. "We don?t know what the options are," she said.
Before joining Columbia police, Infield was an undercover narcotics detective for Jefferson City police and the Mid-Missouri Unified Strike Team and Narcotics Group task force, or MUSTANG.
Having seen countless times how drug abuse harms users and their families, especially children, Infield says marijuana is accurately described as a gateway drug to more lethal substances.
In his letter to the city, Infield tied CPOA?s concerns with the marijuana ordinance to last month?s shootings of Officer Curtis Brown and the late Officer Molly Bowden, who died Feb. 10.
"I am asking for your help, and Mr. Beck?s," Infield wrote. "Mr. Beck went to Officer Curtis Brown during his ordeal and" asked "him if there is anything he could do to help. There is. Please allow the law department to allow the city prosecutor or the chief to file a complaint with the Attorney General?s Office to squash this tainted ordinance."
Rick Evans, 23, shot Bowden Jan. 10 during a traffic stop at Nifong and Forum boulevards. He shot Brown the next morning in the Park De Ville neighborhood before shooting himself, later dying of the wound.
Police found a small amount of marijuana in Evans? car. In his home, investigators also found three plastic baggies of marijuana and measuring scales. Evans had multiple misdemeanor marijuana convictions.
"To stop this ordinance would bring a small degree of justice back to" Bowden and Brown, "who risked all to protect their community," Infield wrote.
Infield later clarified his letter?s reference to the wounded officers.
"It?s horrible that Molly and Curtis got shot, but that?s not the reason we?re doing this," he told a Tribune reporter.
CPOA wants to keep dealers from using the new law to avoid convictions, Infield said. Under the new law, parolees ticketed for possession of less than 1? ounces of marijuana would not face a parole violation.
"A lot of these guys are carrying less than a felony amount," Infield said. "They learn from their mistakes. Most only have on them what they can sell immediately."
The ordinance sends a subtle message to dealers that it?s painless to sell pot in Columbia, Infield said. "And I think we?re saying to our youth that it?s OK to do this."
Columbia lawyer Dan Viets, a longtime marijuana decriminalization advocate, said he?s disappointed by CPOA?s stance.
"I think it?s a shame," he said. "The voters have spoken on this."
Besides, Viets said, marijuana use didn?t cause Bowden?s death. Perhaps, he said, CPOA should look at trying to repeal the state?s law permitting concealable weapons.
Nonetheless, Viets praised enforcement efforts dealing with the new ordinance. "I think they have stayed true to both the spirit and the word of the law," he said.
Police Chief Randy Boehm said he understands how some officers disagree with an ordinance they must enforce, but duty comes first.
"My job is to make sure my officers are following the ordinance," he said. "And I think we are doing that."
Columbia voters soundly defeated a similar city ballot issue in 2003.
"I think there are many in the community, including many in the Columbia Police Officers Association, who assumed it would not pass" in November, Boehm said.
City Prosecutor Rose Wibbenmeyer said, "marijuana cases have increased a lot from Columbia police versus this time last year." Through Friday, she said, there were 210 marijuana violation deferrals under the new ordinance.
Only three of those offenders have drawn additional scrutiny by Wibbenmeyer?s office: One woman allegedly committed two violations within 24 hours; one man was ticketed for three marijuana offenses within a 15-day period; and another man was ticketed twice in a little more than a month. http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread20295.shtml
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