The St. Louis Board of Aldermen recently passed an important bit of legislation which could give smalltime marijuana smokers in the city a break in terms of law enforcement penalties. The new measure means that anyone caught in the city with small amounts of marijuana could end up with a relatively insignificant citation, something akin to a traffic ticket.
The Board of Aldermen voted overwhelmingly in favor of the measure, 22-3, which would give police officers the option to move some marijuana possession cases into the municipal court system, thus taking them out of the normal criminal process. This means that rather than being handcuffed and thrown in the back of a cop car, violators would be issued a summons to appear in municipal court, just like with a traffic violation.
The bill’s sponsor says that the goal is to free up police and prosecutors to focus more attention on serious crimes. Too much time and money was being spent arresting and prosecuting people for possessing very small amounts of marijuana. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office has supported the measure, but has also made clear that there will be no change in the stiff punishments handed down for those caught with larger amounts of marijuana.
Currently state law (Missouri Revised Statutes Section 195.202) says that a first-time offender who is found to possess a small amount of marijuana, between a gram and 35 grams, will be charged with a misdemeanor punishable with a fine up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail. Under the new measure, the penalty for the violation of a city ordinance would be between $100 and $500.
One issue with the new ordinance is that no specific measurements are included in the language defining what qualifies as a “small amount” of marijuana. Right now this leaves a substantial amount of discretion in the police officer’s hands about who will benefit from the new reduction in penalties and who won’t. A spokesperson from the police department has said that they expect the department to come up with a written policy on such matters to provide further clarity.
The mayor must still sign the law before it goes into effect, something he has said he intends to do. Assuming the mayor’s signature is forthcoming, the new ordinance will officially go into effect on June 1, 2013.
If you’ve had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of aggressively protecting your interests, contact our St. Louis criminal defense law firm today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: “Pot Possession Could Become a Less-Serious Offense in St. Louis,” by Kim Hudson, published at KPLR11.com.