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Marijuana Advocates File Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Springfield City Council

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missouri show me cannabis lawsuit springfield city councilAs I have previously blogged, the Springfield, Missouri, City Council subverted democracy and violated the civil rights of cannabis law reform advocates by passing and then repealing a cannabis decriminalization measure, depriving Springfield citizens of their opportunity to vote on a measure that would have decreased the punishment for personal possession in the November 2012 General Election.  This abuse of power has only been utilized against cannabis law reform advocates, violating the the Missouri and United States Constitutions by depriving advocates of equal treatment under the law.  The Springfield News-Leader, the predominant newspaper in the area, even called upon their city council to respect democracy, unfortunately city council members have chosen to subvert democracy and basic constitutional rights.

While Springfield City Council members may now claim otherwise, it has been very clear that a majority of the council simply didn’t approve of the cannabis law reform measure or its proponents and (admittedly) violated the spirit of the initiative charter after hard-working activists braved the Missouri summer to collect the necessary signatures to place a marijuana law reform measure before Springfield voters.  We advocates have tried negotiating with the Springfield City Council to avoid this lawsuit, but no agreement could be reached.  The American Victory Coalition, the primary funders of the initiative signature drive, is joined by Show-Me Cannabis Regulation and local Springfield advocates in this lawsuit.  (Full disclosure: The American Victory Coalition is the parent division of the National Cannabis Coalition.)

The press release from our attorneys at Carnahan, Evans, Cantwell & Brown:

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 24, 2013

Springfield and City Councilmembers Sued By Marijuana Law Reform Advocates Alleging Violation of Constitutional Rights

Springfield, MO ― Maranda Reynolds, Springfield Cannabis Regulation, Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, and the American Victory Coalition filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Springfield and its City Councilmembers for violations of state and federal constitutional rights. Plaintiffs seek actual and punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees.

A 2012 initiative petition effort to place a measure on the November 2012 ballot lessening the penalties for personal cannabis possession, led by local Springfield proponents and funded by Springfield donors, Show-Me Cannabis Regulation and the American Victory Coalition, was unconstitutionally quashed by the City and its Council, according to the Complaint filed in U.S. District Court.  The cannabis law reform measure would protect the educational and employment opportunities of those possessing personal amounts of cannabis while better prioritizing Springfield’s law enforcement resources.  The proposed ordinance is similar to measures passed by localities such as Columbia and Saint Louis, and even conservative states such as Nebraska and Mississippi.  Local advocates turned in enough signatures to place the measure before Springfield voters on the 2012 presidential general election ballot.

According to Maranda Reynolds of Springfield Cannabis Regulation, “A majority of the Springfield City Council voted to pass the measure solely with the intention of repealing it at their earliest convenience, which is an unprecedented decision, and one that deprived Springfield residents of the opportunity to vote on the proposal.” Some council members have already admitted that such a move violated the spirit of the City Charter.

“The suit alleges that the scheme of the Springfield City Council to avoid their duty to either adopt or put this issue to the vote of the people by adopting it and immediately repealing was, at a minimum, a callous and reckless trampling of our clients’ free speech, due process and equal protection rights under the Missouri and United States Constitutions,” said Joseph “Chip” Sheppard, counsel for the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs tried negotiation with the Springfield City Council in hopes of settling on a compromise measure to no avail.  The actions of a majority of the council members have left the plaintiffs no choice but to seek judicial relief according to Reynolds.

The suit, if its allegations are true, exposes the City to payment for all of the monies expended by the plaintiffs in gathering signatures as well as all of their attorneys’ fees, the City’s and Councilmembers attorneys’ fees, and possible punitive damages if a jury finds that some of the individual members of the Council acted with reckless disregard for the rights of the plaintiffs when adopting the ordinance, solely for the purpose of repealing it, and thus avoiding putting the issue on the ballot, as mandated by the City Charter if not adopted.

Of course, we here at AVC believe in reforming cannabis laws for the better and lessening the penalties for simple possession is a great start.  Too many young people have their educational and employment opportunities snuffed out all too early for partaking in the same nontoxic substance that our last three Presidents have used.  Decriminalization not only better protects non-violent cannabis users, but also saves cities money and better prioritizes law enforcement resources.

However, this lawsuit goes above and beyond cannabis law.  This lawsuit is seeking to protect constitutional rights of citizens and the democratic process in Springfield, Missouri.  Our hope is that this lawsuit will provide Springfield residents the opportunity to vote on a common sense decriminalization measure while also putting the Springfield City Council, and all city councils, on notice that everyone deserves equal protection under the law and shouldn’t be singled out for their political beliefs.

If you would like to help with this important lawsuit, please make a donation to the National Cannabis Coalition.

Source: National Cannabis Coalition

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About Author

Anthony Johnson is the director of New Approach Oregon, the PAC responsible for Measure 91, that ended cannabis prohibition for all Oregon adults in 2014. In addition to helping organize the International Cannabis Business Conference & the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference, he also serves as a Board Member of the National Cannabis Coalition, working to legalize cannabis across the country and Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, an organization specifically working to end cannabis prohibition in Missouri. As President of the University of Missouri Law School ACLU Chapter, Anthony co-authored the measures that legalized medical cannabis possession and decriminalized personal possession for all adults within the city limits of Columbia, Missouri, in 2004. Following law school, Anthony practiced criminal defense for two years before working full time in the political field to help improve and protect civil liberties. You can follow Anthony on Twitter and also friend him on Facebook by following the links below as he posts mostly about civil liberties and politics with dashes of sports, music, movies and whatnot.