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Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Finally Gets Hearing on Last Day of Missouri Session

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for marijuana joint 1.jpg
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One step closer to decriminalization.
A proposal to decriminalize marijuana across the state will have a hearing this morning at the Missouri House of Representatives -- which appears to be the farthest this effort has ever gone in the legislature.

It will not, however, make it much farther this time around given that today is the last day of the legislative session.

Still, supportive lawmakers and marijuana reform advocates from Show-Me Cannabis are celebrating the opportunity to have the issue finally debated in this setting.

"It's a big step forward for Missouri," State Rep. Rory Ellinger, a University City Democrat, tells Daily RFT.

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Ellinger's proposal, House Bill 512, would decriminalize the possession of under 35 grams of cannabis.

It is not by any means legalization, but rather would establish that these minor possession cases would result in a punishment of a fine under $250, as opposed to current harsher policies across the state. (And the bill would not apply to individuals who have been convicted of a felony in the last ten years or individuals who have been convicted of previous marijuana charges -- and a few other exceptions outlined in the proposal).

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Rory Ellinger.

The legislation also encourages the courts to make use of a probation option by which the defendant -- upon successful completion of probation -- has the offense wiped from his or her record.

Ellinger tells us that this kind of decriminalization initiative is logical considering current policies around alcohol and tobacco.

"It's very hypocritical to come down on people who use marijuana," he says. "Tobacco and liquor are controlled substances and they are legal. We tax them and we regulate them. That's what we should do with marijuana."

He adds, "I don't know anyone who died of a marijuana overdose."

He emphasizes that with this proposal, marijuana "doesn't become just another product like ketchup. It's still a controlled substance."

Even though the bill is only getting a hearing, it's still a significant move in the right direction, he says, noting that he did not even get this opportunity in past sessions.

The leadership of the House promised him he would get a hearing, he says, and has followed through -- even if it's on the very last day.

"I think it bodes well," he says, adding, "There's actually a lot of support for this among Republicans. It's less interference in people's ordinary lives."

The hearing comes two weeks after the city of St. Louis officially signed into law a similar measure that encourages reduced punishments locally for low-level marijuana possession.

Ellinger's bill is modeled after a local reform in the city of Columbia and advocates are hoping elected officials will pass similar measures in other Missouri cities.

A statewide measure would go a long way to save limited law enforcement resources, says John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis, who will testify today.

"Police in Missouri consistently arrest around 20,000 people for possession of small amounts of marijuana every year," Payne says in a statement. "That is a tremendous waste of law enforcement resources in service of an overly punitive policy that studies have repeatedly shown does not reduce cannabis use. Our current policy is all costs and no benefits, and this bill would be a step in the right direction for Missouri."

The hearing is at 8 a.m. today in Hearing Room 4 of the capitol building in the House's Downsizing State Government Committee.

Here's Show-Me Cannabis' full statement released yesterday followed by a draft of the bill.

On Friday, May 17, the Missouri House of Representatives' Downsizing State Government Committee will hold a hearing on House Bill 512, which would decriminalize the possession of under 35 grams of cannabis. The hearing will begin at 8:00 A.M. in Hearing Room 4 of the capitol building. Representatives from Show-Me Cannabis Regulation intend to testify at the hearing, including Executive Director John Payne, Board Chair and criminal defense attorney Dan Viets, and police sergeant and lobbyist Gary Wiegert.

The bill would eliminate the possibility of arrest or jail for marijuana and paraphernalia possession. It would limit fines for such offenses to no more than $250, but it would also specifically encourage the Courts to make use of a disposition known as "Suspended Imposition of Sentence" (SIS) probation. When a Defendant is granted SIS probation, the Defendant is not convicted of the offense and, when that probation is successfully completed, there is no longer any public record of the entire matter.

"Police in Missouri consistently arrest around 20,000 people for possession of small amounts of marijuana every year," Payne said. "That is a tremendous waste of law enforcement resources in service of an overly punitive policy that studies have repeatedly shown does not reduce cannabis use. Our current policy is all costs and no benefits, and this bill would be a step in the right direction for Missouri."

H.B. 512 is modeled after an ordinance passed by Columbia voters in 2004. A similar reform was passed in the City of Saint Louis in April and will take effect on June 1. A version of the idea is also currently before the Springfield City Council.

Show-Me Cannabis Regulation is an association of organizations and individuals, who believe that cannabis prohibition is a failed policy, and regulating and taxing cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol would better control the production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis than the current criminal market system does. The group seeks to engage Missourians in a serious, public discussion about the issues associated with marijuana consumption, including medical cannabis, industrial hemp, public safety, and financial analysis in order to address problems associated with the current, failed policy.

House Bill 512

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