Missouri: Lawmakers Reduce Marijuana Possession Penalties, But Legal Relief Still Remains Years AwayMay 21, 2014
Legislation revamping Missouri’s criminal code became law last Tuesday, absent the signature of Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon.
Lawmakers and advocates spent some eight years drafting the legislation, Senate Bill 491, which significantly revises the state’s criminal code for the first time in over 30 years. Missouri NORML Coordinator Dan Viets served on the Missouri Bar Association Committee that authored many of the criminal code revisions.
Provisions in the measure amend marijuana possession penalties. At present, the possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis is classified as a Class A criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a one-year incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Under SB 291, the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis will be reclassified as a Class D misdemeanor (the lowest criminal classification available), punishable by a fine, but not the possibility of jail time. However, the possession of greater quantities of cannabis will remain a Class A misdemeanor offense.
In 2010, Missouri police made nearly 18,500 criminal arrests for marijuana possession offenses, one of the highest totals in the country.
Separate provisions in the bill amend Missouri’s “prior and persistent drug offender” law. The changes eliminate the mandate that persons convicted of a drug felony offense for the third time are not eligible for probation or parole.
Unfortunately, despite the passage of SB 491, Missouri residents ought not to expect legal relief any time soon. That is because the changes to the Missouri criminal code do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017. Consequently, local activists are continuing their push for a potential 2016 legalization initiative.
In St. Louis, Missouri Sgt. Gary Wiegert has been given permission by his chief of police to become an official lobbyist in the state to legalize marijuana for the non-profit organization Show Me Cannabis.
While there are hundreds of former law enforcement officers lobbying with the non-profit group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), having a currently employed law enforcement officer being given the ‘green’ light by their command to lobby for marijuana legalization maybe a first. Regardless, it most certainly will not be the last!
Article appeared from the AP in the Kansas City Star:
ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has reversed course and will allow a veteran officer to moonlight as a lobbyist for a pro-marijuana organization.Dotson wrote to police Sgt. Gary Wiegert on Tuesday saying his request for “secondary employment” will be allowed.
Wiegert filed a complaint earlier this year with U.S. District Court claiming the department violated his First Amendment rights to free speech for refusing to allow him to lobby on behalf of Show-Me Cannabis.
Wiegert worked for three years as a lobbyist for the St. Louis Tea Party. In February, he submitted a new application to the department. The application did not require him to state for whom he would lobby. It was approved but revoked after the department learned Wiegert was lobbying for the pro-marijuana group.
Last night, the City Council of Springfield, MO voted 6-3 in favor of an initiative that would lower city penalties for possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis to a maximum $150 fine. This measure came about as part of a petitioning process by the group Show-Me Cannabis Regulation. After the group collected enough signatures from Springfield voters, the council had the option of either passing the legislation or putting it before voters in the November election.
This measure is similar to an ordinance passed in Columbia, MO in 2004, that received 61% of the vote. This initiative differs in that it adds automatic expungement of convictions for possession
of up to 1 and 1/4 ounces of cannabis or cannabis paraphernalia two years after a plea of guilty
or conviction. It also requires the council to appoint a “Citizens Committee” to review and monitor the implementation of the ordinance.
The city council has the opportunity to amend its language and several members have signaled a desire to do so. If they are to amend the language they only have 30 days in which to do so. To what extent the measure will be changed before it is implemented remains unclear. Councilman Tommy Bieker stated that, “I will be voting in support with the intent of turning around and working out the amendment.”
His colleague, Councilman Jeff Seifried told press he supported passing the amendment “then gutting, the entire ordinance.”
NORML will keep you updated as this situation progresses. You can read more about initiatives that did advance to this fall’s ballot by visiting NORML’s 2012 Election Guide, Smoke the Vote.
Residents of Springfield, Missouri will likely be voting on a marijuana decriminalization measure this fall. Initiative proponents, Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, submitted their final round of signatures to the city clerk in the past week and received word yesterday that they have met the required threshold of signatures for qualification. On Thursday afternoon, the Springfield City Clerk confirmed the petition has officially qualified with at least 2,132 certified signatures.
The petition now moves to the City Council, which has the opportunity to enact the measure into law as written or place it before voters in Springfield this November. The initiative aims to lower the penalty for possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana, currently a misdemeanor punishable by arrest, to a ticket with a maximum fine of $150.
NORML will keep you updated as this initiative progresses. For information on other Election 2012 reform efforts, check out NORML’s voter guide, Smoke the Vote.
Florida’s Drug-Testing of the Poor Proves a Failure, but Some States Still Want to Follow their ExampleFebruary 18, 2012
By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law student and NORML Legal Intern
The recent push for implementing drug testing for potential welfare recipients across several states has revealed at least two things: 1. The policy is not economically sound; and 2. It really brings out the hypocrisy in some elected officials.
Last summer, Florida implemented a law requiring all welfare applicants to submit to a mandatory drug test before receiving any benefits (Applicants had to pay the $30 for the test themselves, only to be reimbursed later if they passed. For more information, see this NORML blog post.). Not surprisingly, the program was brought to a quick halt. Back in October of 2011, a federal judge ruled that the Florida drug testing law was unconstitutional.
Further, in the few months that the program was up and running, it was shown that only 2% of welfare applicants tested positive for drugs. About 9% of the general population reports using drugs in the past month. So much for Governor Rick Scott’s theory that the poor use drugs more often than the rest of the populace.
Even more striking is the amount of money that Florida lost from this poorly designed policy. The Tampa Bay Online estimated that $3,400 to $8,200 in savings would be recognized every month from drug testing welfare applicants. As it turns out, the program is estimated to have cost Florida over $200,000. From any perspective, this policy can be regarded as a failure.
Despite the lessons that can be learned from Florida’s debacle, several states are still considering implementing programs to subject their impoverished population to drug tests. The Huffington Post reported that twelve states attempted passing legislation in 2011 that would require drug tests for welfare applicants. Florida, Missouri, and Arizona were the only three that succeeded. However, Pennsylvania has just begun a pilot program in Schuylkill County that subjects certain applicants to drug tests. By tailoring their laws to apply only to applicants that have aroused reasonable suspicion, these states are hoping to avoid constitutional problems like those that ultimately invalidated the Florida law and a similar Michigan law in 2000 (which was affirmed in 2003). Several states have also tried to drug test those who seek unemployment benefits, state employees, and private sector employees, including the passage of an Indiana law that requires drug testing for those in a state job-training program.
When pressed, legislators that support this policy try to justify their position by claiming that the taxpayers should not subsidize drug addiction. But taxpayers pay for much more than just welfare. Some of their money goes towards paying their legislators’ salaries. Wouldn’t this same rationale justify drug testing legislators? This has been the tactic of many Democratic state legislators to thwart Republican efforts to test welfare applicants. In fact, a Republican State representative in the Indiana General Assembly recently pulled a bill after another representative amended it to include drug testing for legislators. The bill was reintroduced and passed by the Indiana General Assembly the following week, which included a section requiring legislators to submit to random drug tests. Missouri and Tennessee currently have bills that would require legislators to submit to drug tests. These were introduced in reaction to a slew of bills aimed at requiring drug tests on different areas of the population. It seems that the legislators who want to drug test the poor aren’t really convinced of the merits of the program when applied to themselves.
Hopefully, state politicians will come to their senses as knowledge about the failure of Florida’s policy becomes more well-known. But given this country’s track record on drug policy, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.
To see a hilarious summary of Florida’s drug-test-the-poor policy, watch this Daily Show clip, which includes Florida State Representative Scott Plakon’s and Governor Rick Scott’s reactions to being asked to take a drug test.