St. Louis Board of Aldermen Vote to Reduce Penalties for Marijuana Possession, Jail Still an Option (UPDATED)


Credit: smokershighlife / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA


Today, Reason 24/7 picked up some interesting news on marijuana from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Board of Aldermen of St. Louis, Mo. voted yesterday to reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The bill was introduced by Alderman Shane Cohn in January and has the support of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's office. A spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said that the mayor intends to sign the bill unless a "legal flaw" is found. If signed the ordinance would go into effect on June 1.

While the ordinance is a step in the right direction jail time could still be handed down to those caught with small amounts of marijuana (which is not defined). From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The penalty for a violation of the new city ordinance would be a $100-$500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. The ordinance doesn't define small amount, which will largely be left up to the interpretation of police officers. The police department is expected to have a written policy on handling such matters.

It should worry residents of St. Louis that police officers will decide what will constitute a small amount of marijuana. That the ordinance allows for those caught with a small amount of marijuana to spend time in jail is also worrying.

Rhode Island's marijuana decriminalization law does not leave jail time as an option for those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana. While Rhode Island's legislation is far from ideal it at least does not leave the amount of marijuana that should be permitted to the discretion of police officers. 

The majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, and the Congressional Research Service has said recently that states do have the power to legalize marijuana. 


John Payne, who is the Executive-Director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, has emailed me to point out that the Post-Dispatch story linked to in the above post incorrectly referred to an earlier draft of the bill. The bill that was voted on does NOT allow for the possibility of jail time. The Penalty Clause of the bill that passed reads as follows:

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 is 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.