Springfield City Council to consider not allowing recreational pot use in public places or moving cars

Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 7:17 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield could be among the first cities in Missouri to put laws in place on where you can consume marijuana.

While recreational pot is legal, Amendment 3 gives municipal governments the right to restrict where it’s used, and the Springfield City Council has started a process that could result in a vote on a new ordinance as early as April 17.

Attorneys for the city met with council members on Monday (March 27) and reported that their research on the subject had turned up only one Missouri city so far that’s enacted any laws on where marijuana can be consumed.

“There are several cities who are discussing it, but the only one who’s passed anything is Jefferson City,” said Assistant City Attorney Lana Woolsey. “They specifically prohibit the consumption of marijuana in a public place. They also talk about marijuana odors being classified as a public nuisance. That’s the only city I could find in Missouri where they’ve already done something so we may be ahead of the game compared to a lot of cities in the state.”

“We’re early in the sense that it appears we’re ahead of many communities,” added Springfield City Manager Jason Gage. “But on the other hand, the law is already in effect so we really feel like we do need to move as quickly as we can to create that structure for everyone.”

Woolsey also pointed out that in the other 20 states that have legalized recreational marijuana, there are many cities where recreational pot use is not allowed in public places. She gave council members copies of similar ordinances in Denver, Colorado, and Washington D.C.

After an hour-and-a-half meeting that sometimes had some raised voices and differences of opinion, the council finally came to a consensus to draw up an ordinance that would address three main areas.

“A week from today we expect to have a bill introduced for the city council’s consideration,” Gage said. “It would restrict marijuana use in many public places. It would also address the impacts of odor and bring restrictions on using marijuana by any occupant in a moving vehicle.”

So what constitutes a public place?

“Generally they define it as a place where a substantial amount of the public has access,” Woolsey answered. “It usually includes places where children can be found. It includes the public areas of streets, highways, the transportation system, amusement parks, parks, playgrounds, places of employment, and then common areas of both public and private buildings. They’re trying to restrict consumption so that you’re not affecting others with your decision. It is generally acceptable in private residences.”

Assistant City Attorney Chris Hoeman told the council members that parked cars with clear windows would also probably fall into the “public place” ordinance.

Having the ordinance deal with consumption in moving cars drew a lot of discussion. The debate centered around a car being a private place compared to the dangers of drivers operating a car while under the influence because of their own use or use by somebody else in the car.

That led to yet another conundrum to discuss. Most of these considerations are using the assumption of pot being smoked. But how can anyone tell if someone is consuming marijuana while they’re walking in a public place or driving in a car if they’re eating a gummy or using a vape pen?

Those are just a few of the many problems that go along with this new era in our nation’s history.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams pointed out to the council members that his officers can no longer use the smell of marijuana as probable cause.

“And there’s nothing about this we would be looking to enforce based on visually seeing a marijuana flower or gummies,” he said. “It’s all about the behavior and characteristics of the driver. That’s where a drug recognition expert comes in. If there’s the thought that the person might be under the influence of anything we’re going to bring that person in and evaluate them before we take any action. But if we see a container of marijuana we’re not going to use that as probable cause to make some sort of arrest.”

The earliest Springfield’s recreational marijuana ordinance could be voted on by the city council is April 17 and considering the ambiguity of the constitutional amendment that legalized pot, don’t expect this to be the final word.

“It is impossible to accurately predict every conceivable scenario that involves marijuana,” Hoeman said. “One thing we found in our research is that communities that have implemented recreational marijuana nationwide have consistently had to go back and re-address based on the realities of living in a new normal.”

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