The St. Louis County Council has voted to decriminalize cannabis possession, clearing the way for the legislation to be signed into law.
St. Louis County Moves to Decriminalize Cannabis
A measure that reduces the penalty for possessing marijuana (up to 35 grams) was passed by the St. Louis County Council on April 13th, with a vote of 6-1. Currently in the county, cannabis possession could lead to a $1,000 fine or a full year in jail, but the proposed legislation would lessen that to a fine of less than $100 — eliminating the possibility of jail time.
Tim Fitch, a former police chief for St. Louis County, used to enforce those high penalties, but after seeing state and local laws evolve the last handful of years, Fitch is leading the charge to reduce punishment.
“A lot of what I thought might happen — huge increases in addiction and substance abuse — hasn’t really materialized,” Fitch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “When it comes to someone having a small amount of marijuana for personal use — they’re not selling it, not driving when they’re using it — I just decided that I’ve seen enough in the last five years to soften my stance on this.”
Fitch, who was elected to the St. Louis County Council as a Republican back in 2018, is the sponsor of the measure. Across his thirty-plus years in the police force, he’s recognized the prolonged effect heightened cannabis penalties have on citizens.
“That’s on the record for the rest of their lives. We’re past that as a country,” said Fitch. “I see some people today that [I gave] a marijuana ticket when they were 18, and they’re productive adults today.”
Ernie Trakas, the sole council member who voted against the measure, did so because he subscribes to the belief that cannabis is a gateway drug to more dangerous illicit substances. Councilman Fitch says he does “recognize the dangers of marijuana” and is “concerned about people using marijuana as a gateway drug,” but he doesn’t believe it to be a widespread issue.
“What I’m doing is bringing the actual penalty in line closer with the reality that is happening today,” Fitch said.
The bill will be signed into law by St. Louis County Executive Director Sam Page, according to county spokesman Doug Moore.
Maplewood City Council Votes to Decriminalize Pot Possession
In an act of coincidental synchrony, the Maplewood City Council also passed a measure on April 13th, decriminalizing marijuana possession.
The bill, modeled after the cannabis reform legislation passed by the Webster Groves City Council in March of 2020, reduces punishment for citizens in possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana to a meager fine of one dollar.
Councilwoman Sarah Crosley sponsored the bill, citing the disproportionate harm cannabis law enforcement has had on Black and Brown citizens, in addition to its overall failure in reducing marijuana usage.
“I’m grateful for the Council’s unwavering support on my first policy initiative, and my hope is that this legislation will inspire other municipalities in the County to take similar action,” said Crosley.
While there aren’t currently plans for nearby municipalities to reduce their cannabis-related penalties, local leaders believe the St. Louis County Council’s decision will have a legislative ripple effect in the area.
“We want to be consistent throughout St. Louis County so I think you’ll see a number of cities adjust their ordinances relatively shortly,” said Pat Kelly, director of the Municipal League of Metropolitan St. Louis. “Like every regulation, they tend to spread from place to place and evolve.”
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