Residents prohibited from consuming marijuana in public under Springfield council proposal
Public consumption of marijuana may soon be banned as Springfield City Council considers how to regulate cannabis after it was legalized at the state level.
Voters approved Amendment 3 to the Missouri Constitution, legalizing the drug for those over 21. However, the amendment leaves enforcement of regulations to the state and local municipalities. City Council met Monday afternoon to discuss what regulations should be in place.
The draft ordinance would ban marijuana possession for those under age 21. Such possession is already illegal under Amendment 3, but the constitutional change did not institute an enforcement mechanism for police. The proposed regulations would make underage individuals in violation subject to civil fines between $100 and $250. The regulations would also ban those under 21 from possessing "marijuana accessories."
With certain exceptions, those over 21 who possess more than three ounces of marijuana at a time will face escalating fines between $250 and $1,000.
Much of the discussion among councilmembers was over a proposed ban on public consumption of marijuana. Under the draft regulations presented to council, people would be banned from consuming marijuana "in a public place," defined as "any place to which the public or a substantial number of the public have access, or any place which is visible by normal unaided vision from any place where the public or a substantial number of the public has access."
This includes but is not limited to streets, highways, sidewalks, transportation facilities, parks, playgrounds, parking lots, and common areas of public and private buildings. Any use of marijuana that is visible from these areas would be disallowed under the draft provisions. Penalties for this offense would be limited to a $100 fine.
Assistant City Attorney Chris Hoeman noted that these regulations are more stringent than how the city regulates the public use of alcohol or tobacco. Councilmembers later asked this provision to be amended to allow consumption on a person's private property that is visible to the public — such as a private balcony or porch.
Councilman Abe McGull said there could be reason to treat public consumption of marijuana differently than alcohol or tobacco because of its distinctive odor.
"I think this restriction has a lot to do with the odor that emits from marijuana as opposed to the odor emitted from tobacco. As a society I think we have become somewhat accustomed to the odor of tobacco but the odor of marijuana is the most repugnant thing about (the drug). We can address that because once the odor is out in the public, it may be offensive," he said.
Councilman Craig Hosmer, who has previously been outspoken in his attempts to restrict use of marijuana, believes the city should go much further in protecting the public to the negative effects legalization might bring. He pointed out the proposed language did not specifically criminalize consumption of marijuana in a vehicle.
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Though council later asked staff to include a provision to specify the regulations include those consuming marijuana while in a moving vehicle, Hosmer hoped to go further to ban an open container of marijuana.
Councilman Richard Ollis said he was concerned with over-regulating and creating difficulties for the Springfield Police Department in enforcing these restrictions.
"Initially implementing some very basic things might be the most appropriate. ... Especially something that's so new to us, I'm afraid we're gonna go so deep here that we're gonna just create something that's virtually unenforceable or unmanageable," Ollis said.
Hosmer said the proposed initial regulations would be "more liberal" than many other municipalities.
"Why are we going to do some sort of watered-down version because we want to get something out quick? I'd rather do something right rather than to do it quick ...," he said. "Our obligation is to make sure we have good public policies. We don't know what the impact is going to be. You go more lenient than any other jurisdiction that we've looked at. Doesn't make any sense to me."
Councilman Andy Lear pointed out that unlike alcohol, many containers of marijuana are resealable and so not analogous to a can of alcohol.
Horton said she is concerned too many regulations may affect marginalized residents such as Black or low-income Springfieldians more than others.
"We're putting so many restrictions, and I can't help but to think who is going to disproportionately impact others compared to the public at large. I can't help but to think about that," Horton said.
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With some revisions, City Council plans to bring the proposed regulations up for a vote soon after the April election, once new councilmembers are seated.
City Manager Jason Gage mentioned the possibility of a sales tax on recreational marijuana in Springfield but wanted to wait to have a fuller discussion until after other municipalities vote on such taxes.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: No public consumption of marijuana in proposed council regulation