St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones signed a cannabis decriminalization ordinance this week, saying the measure will help address racial disparities in the city’s enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws. Jones approved the measure, which was passed by the Board of Alderman last month, at a signing ceremony held at City Hall on Monday.
The new ordinance, Board Bill 132, repeals city laws related to the possession of small amounts of cannabis and drug paraphernalia within the City of St. Louis. The mayor’s office noted in a statement that the measure is consistent with Amendment 2, the 2018 ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana in Missouri after receiving the approval of 82 percent of St. Louis voters and more than 65 percent of the vote statewide.
Jones noted that the ordinance is the latest step in her “mission to put the public back in public safety,” noting that over the last three years, almost 600 have been arrested in St. Louis for marijuana-related charges. Of them, nearly 500 were Black.
“We are seeing a major shift in the way our country sees not just marijuana, but how it connects to public safety, incarceration, and economic opportunity in our communities,” Jones told reporters. “This law will help reduce racial disparities in our policing, make our city safer, and make St. Louis more competitive in hiring for city positions.”
Monday’s signing ceremony was attended by aldermen representing communities from across St. Louis. Alderman Bret Narayan, the bill’s sponsor, thanked the mayor and his colleagues, noting that the measure will also have other benefits for the city.
“It’s rare that we see so many people from so many different backgrounds unite around a single cause, which is exactly what we have done here,” said Narayan. “This law represents the clear will of the people of St. Louis. It will allow for our law enforcement officials to use their resources on the most pressing issues in our region, help with labor shortages in our City departments, and will also help prevent our injured first responders from falling into the pitfalls of opiate addiction.”
Cannabis Decriminalization Measure Draws Wide Support
The measure was passed by the Board of Alderman on November 23. Narayan said at the time that the bill had broad support from city leaders.
“It has the buy-in from the public safety director,” Narayan said. “It has the buy-in from the director of personnel. We have talked to basically every stakeholder along the way.”
The St. Louis cannabis decriminalization measure also has the support of activists and representatives of Missouri’s growing medical cannabis industry. Tom Muzzey, the CEO of SWADE Cannabis, which operates five dispensaries within the city limits, said that “policy reform is vital, and we recognize that states and local jurisdictions are struggling to address the existing issues of social, economic, and racial inequity associated with cannabis.”
“As a leader in the industry, we believe it is our responsibility to assist with the narrative and offer guidance for all parties involved,” Muzzey continued. “Together, with our partners, we are committed to fighting for the changes needed to create a more just and equitable industry.”
Although the bill changes the city’s cannabis enforcement policy, Dan Viets, the executive director of the Missouri chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), noted that the new ordinance does not provide full protection from prosecution.
“If we only repeal the local ordinances, police still have the option to pursue charges under state law,” Viets said.
Viets said that the focus on cannabis reform must continue at the state level, noting that “19 states now have already legalized adult marijuana use.” Advocates of legalization are currently in the process of collecting the 170,000 signatures needed to put a recreational cannabis initiative on Missouri’s ballot for the 2022 election.
“It’s not a radical proposal at all,” Viets said. “It’s one which will result in much greater control of marijuana regulation. Taxation and legalization are better for everyone.”