The Saint Louis Health and Human Services Committee considered Alderman Shane Cohn's proposal to reform the city's cannabis laws on Thursday, and the proceedings yielded mixed results. The bad news is that the committee chair removed the sections relating to medical marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. The good news is that the rest of the bill -- which will prevent arrest for possession of under 35 grams of marijuana, make the offense a municipal infraction like a traffic ticket, and instruct the courts that the proper disposition of the case is a suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) -- passed unanimously. Perhaps even more extraordinary, a representative of the Saint Louis Police Department testified that this was "a good bill" that will save the department resources!
The bill will now go back to the full board of aldermen, where it will very likely pass. However, since this hearing was delayed twice, the board will probably not vote on it before they recess for the spring next Friday. We now expect a vote when the recess ends in April.
Alderman Cohn also told me that he plans to introduce the language relating to paraphernalia as an amendment once this bill becomes an ordinance. He also intends to introduce the medical section as a standalone referendum proposal that would hopefully go to Saint Louis voters at the midterm elections in 2014. Given these developments, we are going to hold off on launching the calls that we had planned for next week and deploy them right before the board of aldermen reconvenes to maximize their impact.
You can read the full text of the committee approved bill in the next section. It is not perfect, but it is a big step forward. By spring, I fully expect that Saint Louis will have rules for the possession of small amounts of marijuana that are almost identical to Columbia's, which is a substantial improvement from the bill that was originally introduced three weeks ago, and we are grateful that we were able to work with Alderman Cohn to strengthen that language. I'm also confident that we will be able to pass the sections that were removed; it will just take a little longer than we'd like.
Please help reduce and ultimately end the penalties on cannabis use in Saint Louis and across the state by investing with Show-Me Cannabis today!
Text of the Proposed Ordinance
An Ordinance establishing policies for the possession and enforcement of marijuana offenses in the City of St. Louis, Missouri; containing a severability clause, and a penalty clause and an effective date clause.
WHEREAS, the Missouri State Court system and Circuit Attorney's Office of the City of St. Louis currently handle a multitude of marijuana possession cases;
WHEREAS, valuable prosecutorial resources are utilized in prosecuting marijuana offenses;
WHEREAS, the City Counselor's Office of the City of St. Louis has available resources to prosecute minor marijuana offenses in an efficient and expeditious manner in City Court thereby allowing State resources to be focused on more serious crime;
WHEREAS, people should not possess the controlled substance of marijuana, but also should not incur unreasonably harsh consequences as a result of possession of minor amounts;
WHEREAS, valid legal prescriptions for medicinal marijuana should be recognized.
BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS AS FOLLOWS:
SECTION ONE. Possession and Enforcement of Marijuana Offenses.
It shall be unlawful for any person to possess marijuana as defined in Chapter 195.010 et. seq. of the Revised Statutes of Missouri as amended. The message of this section is that people should not use marijuana, but should also not lose opportunities for education and employment because of such use. The limited resources of law enforcement should be directed primarily toward crimes of violence or property loss.
When any law enforcement officer suspects any adult as defined by state criminal statutes, other than those excluded herein, of possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, that person shall not be required to post bond, suffer arrest, be taken into custody for any purpose nor detained other than the issuance of a summons, suffer incarceration, suffer loss of driver's license, or any other punishment or penalty other than the issuance of a summons.
SUBSECTION A. Exemptions from Section One.
Section One shall not apply to persons:
i. Who have pled or been found guilty of a felony within the preceding ten (10) years; or
ii. Who have pled or been found guilty in a state court of a Class A misdemeanor, other than misdemeanor marijuana possession, within the preceding five (5) years; or
iii. Who have pled or been found guilty in a state or municipal court of misdemeanor marijuana possession on two or more occasions within the preceding five (5) years; or
iv. Who are arrested on suspicion of any felony or misdemeanor offense chargeable only under state law, arising from the same set of facts and circumstances as the alleged marijuana offense.
SECTION TWO. Penalty Clause.
Any person violating this Ordinance shall be subject to a fine of not less than one hundred dollars and not more than five hundred dollars. There should be a strong presumption that the proper disposition of any such case is to suspend the imposition of sentence and/or require community service work and/or drug counseling and education. All such matters shall only be referred to the City Counselor, and no other prosecuting attorney, and the City Counselor shall not refer the matter to any other prosecutor, agency, or office unless provisions of Section One, Subsection A are applicable.
SECTION THREE. Funding of Substance Abuse Awareness, Prevention and Treatment Programs.
Any fine collected as a result of this ordinance will be used to cover administrative costs of the court, and any amount collected greater than the cost of administration shall be evenly divided between the City of St. Louis General Revenue Fund and the St. Louis Mental Health Board for the purpose of funding substance abuse awareness, prevention and treatment programs with an emphasis on high school-aged youth.
SECTION FOUR. Severability Clause.
The provisions of this section are severable. If any provision of this Ordinance is declared invalid, that invalidity shall not affect other provisions of the Ordinance which can be given effect without the invalid provision.
SECTION FIVE. Effective Date.
This Ordinance shall take effect on June 1, 2013.