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St. Louis Reduces Penalties for Marijuana Possession

By Thomas H. Clarke April 16, 2013 St. Louis Reduces Penalties for Marijuana Possession
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ST. LOUIS, MO —  The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted 22-3 on Monday to reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana to a municipal offense, similar to a traffic ticket.  Mayor Francis Slay is likely to sign the measure into law as early as this week.

If Mayor Francis Slay signs the bill into law as expected, as of June 1 penalties for possessing a “small amount” of marijuana in St. Louis would result in a fine of $50, and up to 90 days in jail.

The ordinance doesn’t define how much marijuana constitutes a small amount, which will be left up to the interpretation of police officers.

The bill encourages police officers to bring minor marijuana possession offenses to the lower municipal court where they are treated like traffic offenses as opposed to the Circuity Attorney’s Office where they require a lengthy process for police and prosecutors.  Violators will be given a summons to appear in municipal court instead of handcuffed and put in the back of a police car.

The bill has support from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office, although they have warned that anyone caught with a large amount of marijuana will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of state law, including possible distribution charges.

Under state law, possession of 35 grams or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A second offense for possession of more than 35 grams is considered a felony, with harsher penalties.

“I think this is a good step for the city of St. Louis,” said Alderman Shane Cohn, who authored the bill. “It doesn’t legalize marijuana, but it gives fairness.”

Cohn, who introduced the bill in January, hopes the measure can help focus prosecutors and law enforcement resources on more serious crimes. He said he also hoped it would keep offenders from having to bear the heavy legal costs of state court.

John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, a marijuana reform advocacy group, said he was pleased with the vote and hopes it leads to sate wide decriminalization, and ultimately marijuana legalization, in Missouri.

An attempt to legalize adult possession of marijuana in the Show Me State failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

Missouri does not allow the medical use of marijuana.