Voters in this college town rejected a proposition to soften penalties for marijuana possession and allow pot by prescription.

With all votes counted, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said nearly 58 percent opposed Proposition 1 in Tuesday's election. Vote counting had been slowed by a problem requiring inspection by hand of ballots in an unrelated county race, she said.

Proposition 1, placed on the ballot by petition, would have made Columbia the only place in Missouri where medical marijuana was declared legal for the seriously ill.

Nine states and several local governments have approved the practice of prescribing marijuana, amid legal challenges from the federal government.

The sentencing section would have required that arrests for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana - roughly 1 1/4 ounces - be handled in municipal rather than circuit court. The maximum penalty would be a $500 fine - and that would be imposed only for the defendant's fourth and subsequent offenses.

The campaign for Proposition 1 drew backing from national groups advocating marijuana's decriminalization, and its treasurer said about $30,000 was raised.

Boosters said the measure would have spared college students from a permanent criminal record for pot possession - and protect their federal student aid, which may be yanked because of drug convictions.

But law enforcement officials said the measure would remove their discretion to charge known drug dealers more harshly.

The Bush administration, while asserting it wasn't telling residents how to vote, sent a representative to Columbia last week to proclaim the White House's opposition to marijuana use. Anthony Johnson, the University of Missouri-Columbia law student who pushed for the measure, criticized the White House for getting involved in a local campaign.