Marijuana decriminalization advocates consider Cape Girardeau as focal point of campaign efforts

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Advocates working toward a marijuana decriminalization initiative have named Cape Girardeau, along with several other Missouri cities, as a possible focal point of their campaign efforts in 2010, the Associated Press reported.

Joplin activist Kelly Maddy said the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws doesn't dictate for other communities where its efforts will be concentrated, and that he's unaware of any specific plans regarding Cape Girardeau.

Cape Girardeau and the Missouri towns of Springfield and Blue Springs were named because they are cities where there are significant numbers of members but no official chapter affiliate, Maddy said in an e-mail to the Southeast Missourian.

All three cities are also home to universities; Cape Girardeau has Southeast Missouri State University, William Woods University is in Blue Springs, and Missouri State University, along with several other colleges, are in Springfield.

NORML chapters and members are constantly looking for opportunities in Missouri cities to seek reform by gathering signatures on an initiative petition, successful in Columbia, Mo., in 2004, Maddy said.

However, Allen St. Pierre, NORML's executive director, said that there were no current Cape Girardeau members listed in the organization's database, and the last one had not been active since 2005.

"There will be campaigns in 2010 in a Missouri municipality, for now we are not sure where they will be," Maddy wrote in the e-mail.

Such an campaign in Joplin, Mo., fell 531 voter signatures short in 2008, prompting advocates to consider a new community as a battleground next year.

Law enforcement officials in Cape Girardeau say they have doubts that such an initiative would succeed in Southeast Missouri, and have concerns if it were to get local support.

"Cape's still fairly conservative," said Kevin Glaser, director of the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force.

While Cape Girardeau is a college town, it differs from Columbia, said Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, in that University of Missouri students make up a much larger portion of that city's population.

"I doubt an initiative to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana would pass in Cape Girardeau," Swingle said.

Swingle said he predicted organizers selected another area of the state to concentrate their efforts.

Perry County Sheriff and drug task force board president Gary Schaaf said he expected such a measure to have mixed success locally.

Glaser said most members of law enforcement still view marijuana as a gateway drug capable of leading users down a path where they eventually try and abuse other controlled substances such as methamphetamine and prescription narcotics.

"I think it'd be a step backwards," Glaser said of a decriminalization initiative.

Though many people view marijuana as less dangerous than other controlled substances, Schaaf said, its frequently involved in other crimes and felony drug cases where other types of drugs are seized, like meth and cocaine.

Swingle pointed out that possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana is still a low-level offense in which the defendant is unlikely to serve any jail time.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

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