Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker of Jackson County, Missouri announced on Tuesday that her office would no longer prosecute most cases for possession of marijuana. The change in policy comes one week after voters in Missouri approved a constitutional amendment legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis in the midterm elections. The county of nearly 700,000 residents in western Missouri includes Kansas City, the state’s most populous municipality.
Baker said in a press release that voters had not taken their responsibility lightly, approving Constitutional Amendment 2 while rejecting two other measures she characterized as “lesser proposals.”
“Voters were discerning in considering the issue,” Baker said.
Broad Support For Medical Marijuana
Amendment 2 received the approval of two out three Missouri votes statewide. Support for the initiative was even higher in Jackson County, with three out of four voters giving the nod to the measure. The amendment legalizes the medical use of marijuana in the state and sets a 4 percent tax on cannabis sales. Revenue generated from taxes generated by medical marijuana sales will be spent on health services for veterans.
Baker said that the broad support for Amendment 2 was a factor in her decision to end prosecution for marijuana possession. She also noted that a change in public opinion had become evident as jurors became more reluctant to hand down convictions for marijuana offenses.
“That mandate from voters is directing this shift in our office,” Baker said. “This changing attitude toward marijuana is something we have been seeing anecdotally from our juries for some time.”
Baker said that some marijuana offenses would continue to be prosecuted by her office. Charges would still be filed in cases of possession of marijuana with evidence of sales or distribution such as large amounts of cash, scales, or individually packaged bags, for example. Cases of possession that lead to driving under the influence of cannabis or harm to a minor would also be prosecuted.
Jackson County’s top prosecutor also announced that she would be initiating two public safety awareness campaigns related to cannabis. The first will warn caregivers to keep marijuana edibles away from children while the second will focus on “drugged driving,” warning cannabis users that driving under the influence is still illegal.
“Voters spoke very clearly and overwhelmingly,” Baker stated. “But we need to keep the drug – like any drug – away from the kids, and driving while high is a serious crime that puts us all at risk.”
Law Enforcement Supports Prosecutor’s Decision
Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forté said that Baker’s decision was a “bold and progressive” one.
“Once again, she is showing that she is a leader,” Forté said.
The sheriff added that his department would initiate changes to comply with the new guidelines from the prosecutor’s office.
“We would have to look at our policies and see how to proceed, because we will not present any drug cases that are not going to be prosecuted,” he said. “Since she is taking the lead, we will tweak our policies and procedures to make sure nobody will get falsely arrested.”