Marijuana Decriminalization Bill: How Many Cases Does St. Louis Circuit Attorney Handle?

Categories: Crime, Politics

marijuana image 1.jpeg
via Wikimedia Commons
One of the more contentious proposals making headlines this month at the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen is an initiative to decriminalize marijuana in the city -- by pushing law enforcement agencies to avoid harsh prosecutions of those caught with small amounts of pot.

Some new amendments are expected to be added to Alderman Shane Cohn's bill tomorrow -- and in the meantime, he and the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office have been in discussions about how his ideas might ultimately work. Cohn hopes his bill would move cases from the Circuit Attorney to the lower court system.

So what is the volume of cases that could be impacted? The Circuit Attorney's Office has provided Daily RFT estimates on the number of eligible cases from 2012.

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Susan Ryan, spokeswoman for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, tells us that in 2012, the office took on a total of around two hundred marijuana misdemeanor cases in which those charged did not have prior offenses and had under 35 grams. Those cases also involved suspects who weren't facing additional charges (such as having an illegal weapon and possessing pot).

Based on those parameters, these two hundred or so cases are marijuana charges that would have been eligible, under Cohn's proposal, to potentially be brought to the City Counselor's Office of St. Louis and treated as a lower offense, instead of to the Circuit Attorney.

Alderman Shane Cohn.jpeg
Alderman Shane Cohn

Ryan explains that in 2012, there were hundreds more marijuana misdemeanor cases processed through Joyce's office, but due to other factors -- such as criminal history and connections to other charges -- they would not have been eligible to face a lower punishment under the Board of Aldermen bill, on full view below.

"A majority of the citizens of the City of St. Louis understand...that there is a very real and unfair punishment associated with this," Cohn tells Daily RFT. "We are not trying to encourage use -- we are trying to just go about this in a smart manner, in terms of not unreasonably or harshly punishing people, but at the same time, alleviating the case load in our Circuit Court system."

The Police Department, Ryan explains, does currently have the option to bring cases to either the Circuit Court system or the City Counselor's Office. But Cohn's bill, which also addresses questions of medical marijuana, would create more specific language for how and when police should send cases to the lower court -- for less harsh punishments.

Ryan emphasizes that there is no way to quantify exactly how many cases would have faced these lower charges, given that there are a lot of factors involved when police officers catch a suspect with pot and make the decision of where to send them.

But Cohn says he hopes that, if enacted, his proposal would function as a win-win for the various law enforcement agencies and for public safety more broadly.

"At the end of the day, we need to be fair and reasonable -- and mindful of the precious resources we have at the government," he says. "It's doing the right thing. There are issues with substances being used and abused. We don't encourage the use of it -- but we don't want to unreasonably burden our citizens."

As its currently written, in its first draft form introduced on January 11, the bill maintains that is unlawful to possess marijuana, but provides an exception for lawfully prescribed medical marijuana -- a prescription that would come from another state, since medical marijuana is not established in Missouri.

Continue for more specifics on the bill and the full draft legislation.


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13 comments
Kevin Cook
Kevin Cook

No. The economy would suffer from people staying home on their couches. Although Cheetos sales would increase...hmm. Okay, then.

DrugsAreBadMKay
DrugsAreBadMKay

What we aren't considering, are the number of cases where the police did not report the possession because of the pain in their ass of paperwork and court appearances.  This bill will take away that pain and we will overnight have an epidemic.

I blame guns, lets take away everyone's guns!!

handsomejimmy
handsomejimmy

I am handsome jimmy and i approve of this message...

Dan Turnbaugh
Dan Turnbaugh

"You can buy a fifth of vodka, but you can't buy a joint..."

Bill Taden
Bill Taden

Well since ur asking, I will ask also. What is ur take on the way things are handled? U ask ur subscribers but we want know how RFT feels about the topic. I say it shouldn't sold at all. It should be grown and given away.

Marisela Rivas
Marisela Rivas

Eliminated. Don't you guys have a huge heroin and crack problem there? They should pat someone on the back if they're just smoking pot! Lol

Angela Poeling
Angela Poeling

As long as the user doesn't hurt anybody, it should be legal.

PJ Mitchell Rulo
PJ Mitchell Rulo

I say it should be legal! and i'm not even a smoker of it.but i don't think the good lord would have placed this plant on earth for no reason at all.it's naturally grown!! are we judging the lord too??

Philip Nations
Philip Nations

You know, with the way this whole pot thing is shaping up, there's enough material on deck to keep every print press in business from reggae to righteous from Tuskegee to Kalamazoo until 2420

malcolmkyle16
malcolmkyle16 topcommenter

"In the United States, drug arrests have tripled in the last 25 years, however most of these arrests have been for simple possession of low-level drugs. In 2005, nearly 43% of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses.  Marijuana possession arrests accounted for 79% of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990s. Nearly a half million people are in state or federal prisons or a local jail for a drug offense, compared to 41,000 in 1980. Most of these people have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity" - page 4


"With over 5 million people on probation or parole in the United States, drug use on parole or probation has become the primary basis by which thousands of people are returned to prison. These technical violations of parole or probation account for as many as 40% of new prison admissions in some jurisdictions." - page 6


PROHIBITION IS A DIRECT THREAT TO PUBLIC SAFETY: 


"The war on drugs has also generated indirect costs that many researchers contend have undermined public safety. The federal government has prioritized spending and grants for drug task forces and widespread drug interdiction efforts that often target low-level drug dealing. These highly organized and coordinated efforts have been very labor intensive for local law enforcement agencies with some unanticipated consequences for investigation of other crimes. The focus on drugs is believed to have redirected law enforcement resources that have resulted in more drunk driving, and decreased investigation and enforcement of violent crime laws. In Illinois, a 47% increase in drug arrests corresponded with a 22% decrease in arrests for drunk driving. Florida researchers have similarly linked the focus on low level drug arrests with an increase in the serious crime index."


–Drug Policy, Criminal Justice and Mass Imprisonment, by Bryan Stevenson

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