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May 21, 2013

Springfield votes against weakened marijuana penalties

Springfield's city council has voted again not to lower the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The council on Monday night defeated a proposal to limit penalties for possession of the drug and declined to place an alternative proposal on the August ballot.

Supporters of the proposals said they would meet later to decide what their next step might be, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

The proposal would have required the city to charge some first- and second-time offenders who had 35 grams or less of marijuana with municipal infractions, rather than criminal misdemeanors. Exemptions also would have allowed suspects to be prosecuted in state court for multiple offenses or when other crimes are committed, or at the discretion of the county prosecutor.

Last summer, proponents gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a public vote, but council members declined to put it on the November ballot. Instead, the council approved the petition and then repealed it at the first opportunity.

In response, the propenents' attorney, Chip Sheppard, worked with city staff and Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky to draft an amended proposal, with a goal of putting it on the August ballot.

The council voted 6-2 to not approve the first proposal, and then agreed unanimously not to put the alternative up for a vote.

Opponents argued that the decriminalization of marijuana possession should be done by the state, if at all.

Mayor Bob Stephens said people who use marijuana know it's illegal.

"It becomes a willful violation," Stephens said. "I don't see any reason to lessen the penalties on that."

Councilmen Doug Burlison was one of only two council members to support the proposed change.

"We mark people for life when they are arrested for a marijuana charge ... Is this a real crime that people in this community need to be up in arms about?" asked Burlison. "I think we've learned that prohibition ... is not a good policy."

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