Lighting up a joint may not land a pot smoker in the joint anymore in St. Louis city.
The Board of Aldermen voted 22-3 Monday to reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of the drug. Alderman Shane Cohn introduced the ordinance that would reduce the penalty for carrying pot to a municipal offense. That means police officers would not be required to arrests offenders, but could just issue a summons to municipal court.
The bill, which was introduced earlier this year by Alderman Shane Cohn, also enables police to recognize patients with “valid legal prescriptions for medicinal marijuana.” State law does not recognize so-called medicinal marijuana.
Violators would typically be given a summons to appear in municipal court instead of handcuffed and put in the back of a police car. Police currently charge marijuana offenders under more harsh state laws because no local law is on the books.
Currently under state law, first offenders who are caught with a small amount of marijuana — from a gram to 35 grams— are given 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.
The penalty for a violation of the proposed city ordinance would be a $100-$500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that Sgt. Gary Wiegert is a lobbyist for Show-Me Cannabis, which wants Missouri to allow the regulated sale of marijuana. Wiegert also lobbies for the St. Louis Tea Party.
Police Chief Sam Dotson released a statement saying Wiegert is not representing the department and Wiegert's comments "are his own and not what is expected of our officers."
Wiegert is a former president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association. Messages left for Wiegert weren't immediately returned.
The House Human Services Committee voted 11-4 Wednesday to move the proposal to the full House for consideration.
The measure would allow patients over the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with specific terminal illnesses or debilitating medical conditions to obtain marijuana.
Cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV are among the illnesses.
Supporters say marijuana can relieve continual pain without triggering the harmful effects that other prescription drugs may commonly cause.
The measure gives a framework for a four-year pilot program that includes requiring patients and caregivers to submit background checks.
But opponents say the program would encourage the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Under a bill outlined Thursday, first-time offenders for marijuana possession would be allowed to do community service and avoid jail. If offenders complete the sentence, the convictions would be removed from their record.
Rep. Rory Ellinger, a criminal defense attorney and Democrat from St. Louis, said the legislation would help people with marijuana convictions in their youth get jobs later by not having to disclose the conviction.
Ellinger said the measure could save the state money by keeping first-time drug offenders out of jail.
The new sentencing structure would apply only to people carrying less than 35 grams of marijuana.