Marijuana: St. Louis Circuit Attorney Open to Reform Policy for Minor Offenses

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An effort to save law-enforcement resources by reducing the punishment for low-level marijuana offenses in St. Louis has received renewed attention this month -- with a metro police sergeant actively lobbying for the cause, much to the displeasure of his higher-ups.

The free-speech lawsuit this fight sparked has raised questions about local law enforcement's stance on these marijuana-reform efforts. Police officials recently haven't said too much about the potential law change, though backers of the initiative say the department is generally supportive. And Daily RFT checked in this week with officials at the St. Louis circuit attorney's office -- who would in theory prosecute fewer minor offenses under this proposal -- to get their thoughts.

The circuit attorney is supportive, though officials tell us that if passed, the measure would not directly impact the office's resources.

As we've reported, St. Louis Alderman Shane Cohn has proposed a bill to encourage law-enforcement officials in the city to prosecute minor possession offenses in city court as opposed to the circuit attorney's office. This change, Cohn argues, would save government resources and would also not unfairly burden those who have committed the most minor possession offenses. The bill has specific criteria for when theses cases should go to city court. (For example, if individuals have felony convictions or previous marijuana convictions, those should still be sent to the circuit attorney, the latest draft of the legislation specifies.) In municipal court, these crimes would be treated as violations with a fine.

And ultimately police officers would still have discretion to decide where to send cases.

Where, then, could this save resources?

Not at the circuit attorney's office, which last year, for example, handled about 200 marijuana misdemeanor cases.

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Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce

In response to Daily RFT's inquires, Rachel Smith, chief prosecutor for the office's community affairs bureau, writes:

Alderman Cohn's ordinance allows matters involving small amounts of marijuana and first time offenders to be handled by the City Court. This system, while not impacting Circuit Attorney resources, has potential to save police resources while generating fine revenue for City tax payers. The Circuit Attorney's Office is always open to ideas that can allow the criminal justice system to use resources efficiently without risking public safety.

Continue for more details on the marijuana reform proposal.

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JamesMadison topcommenter

Makes no sense. If it is not so bad of a thing, why make it illegal? If it is a problem drug, make using it a real crime. This demoting it to a smaller offense only encourages some to try it. Either it is a bad thing to have more recreational users, or it is not. This halfway thing is dangerous to our freedoms or our health and safety.

Trish R Bertrand
Trish R Bertrand

While legalization is the goal, lowering the punishment is a good thing :)

Thomas Thale
Thomas Thale

I'm guessing that this is our longest war, our most expensive war in terms of money, our most destructive war in terms of lives, families, and friends!


A step in the right direction!  We (St. Louis) are a bit behind on this matter. 

This does not make marijuana legal but decriminalizes it.... "Most places that have decriminalized cannabis have civil fines, drug education, or drug treatment in place of incarceration and/or criminal charges for possession of small amounts of cannabis, or have made various cannabis offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement."

Beth Schwartz Rodgers
Beth Schwartz Rodgers

It is not a hard of a drug as alcohol, doesn't make you throw up, no hangovers can't OD on it so If Alcohol is legal then dang it POT SHOULD BE LEGAL!

Todd Merlenbach
Todd Merlenbach

It would clear up room in prisons for the real problems of humanity.

Gregg Thomas
Gregg Thomas

It's crazy that MJ is still illegal in this day an age.

JJ O'Brand
JJ O'Brand

No, 100% decrim/legalization, no punishment whatsoever....

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