Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) – Springfield city officials say they have agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by advocates who wanted to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The settlement would release both parties from admitting fault in a controversy that began in 2012, when the advocates collected enough signatures on petitions asking the city to prohibit jail time for first- or second-time offenders caught with up to 35 grams of marijuana. Offenders would instead be subjected to fines, community service and/or drug education programs.

The city council was required by city charter to approve the proposed changes or put them to a public vote. The council approved the ordinance during one meeting then rescinded the action a few weeks later, thus avoiding a public vote.

At the time, city officials said the council passed the marijuana ordinance with the intention of amending some of it. It was repealed when the council couldn’t agree on the amendments, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

Advocate Maranda Reynolds and the nonprofit groups Show-Me Cannabis Regulation and American Victory Coalition sued in July 2013, claiming the council’s action might be technically legal but was  “an illegal attempt to circumvent the intent” of the city charter.

City Attorney Dan Wichmer said the city council agreed to the settlement at its April 15 meeting.

“Given the complexity of the litigation and the amount of time both parties have put into prosecuting and defending the claim, our insurance representatives felt it was in the best interest of all parties (to) … end this costly endeavor,” Wichmer said in a statement Thursday.

The activists contended the settlement shows city leaders acknowledge that the council ignored the public’s will.

“Hopefully they’ve learned their lesson that they can’t do indirectly what they are prohibited from doing directly,” Reynolds wrote in a statement to the News-Leader.

The city statement said the settlement would be funded by $50,000 from the general fund and $175,000 from insurance.

The council has not agreed to send any measure about marijuana to a vote and it is not clear if anyone plans to begin another petition drive.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)



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