Marijuana remains illegal in the state of Missouri. But in St. Louis, efforts are being made to scale back prohibition laws. In fact, the city has seen an ongoing string of policy changes in recent years. Now, as St. Louis stops prosecuting cases of weed possession under 100 grams, it appears that the city’s approach to weed is continuing to evolve.
Changing Cannabis Policies in St. Louis
Approaches to marijuana laws in St. Louis really started to change in 2013. That year, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved a policy shift in which marijuana possession would be treated more like a regular traffic ticket than a criminal case.
More specifically, this change made it so that if a person is busted with 35 grams of weed or less, their case would move through lower-level courts. Prior to 2013, weed-related cases were handled by the office of the circuit attorney.
At the time, many saw these changes as a step in the right direction. In particular, it promised to address policing practices that disproportionately affect people and communities of color, and that many saw as overly punitive.
But those outcomes did not materialize as much as many had hoped. In fact, as reported by local news source Riverfront Times, St. Louis cops began citing even more people for marijuana possession than before 2013. Offenders were given tickets and fines of $100-$500, but there were still large numbers of people cited.
Even worse, reports found that the enforcement of marijuana laws continued to harm people of color at much higher rates than white people. In fact, roughly 85 percent of all marijuana citations in St. Louis were issued to black people.
Now, some city officials are trying to make new improvements to how the city approaches cannabis. In March, St. Louis Aldermen lowered fines to $25.
And yesterday, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner issued a memo to her staff outlining yet another new policy.
According to Gardner, the circuit attorney’s office will no longer prosecute any cases where the offender is found with 100 grams of weed or less. In her memo, Gardner said the change would immediately go into effect.
A Step in the Right Direction
While it may be argued that any move to limit the heavy-handedness of prohibition laws is a step in the right direction, the implications of this newest change are yet to be seen.
For starters, even a small $25 municipal citation could still harm a person’s legal record.
“People think this is nothing, but if you plead guilty to it, even in a municipal court, it would show up in a criminal background check,” legal expert Andrea Story Rogers told the Riverfront Times.
Further, there is also the possibility that marijuana offenders could be prosecuted by agencies other than the circuit attorney. In particular, federal agents have reportedly shown some willingness in recent weeks to step in and prosecute cases that would normally be handled at the local level.
This could especially be true in the markedly anti-weed environment being created by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.