July 15, 2019

St. Louis City lessens marijuana penalties

St. Louis City residents will face lighter penalties if caught with marijuana beginning in June. By a vote of 22 to 3, the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen decreased the charges for anyone in possession of “small amounts” of marijuana.

The ordinance will go into effect on June 1. Those caught in possession of “small amounts” of marijuana will face a fine between $100 and $500, and/or 90 days in jail, according to the bill. The bill does not define what a “small amount” of marijuana is, nor who decides what constitutes a “small amount.”

Currently, St. Louis City follows Missouri state law, which penalizes users with a $1,000 fine and/or one year in jail for the possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana. 

Proponents of the city’s bill said the law will provide relief to the state court system.

According to the bill, the city has better resources than the state to deal with minor marijuana offenses “in an efficient and expeditious manner … thereby allowing state resources to be focused on more serious crime.”

Alderman Joseph Vaccaro (23rd Ward) was one of three aldermen who voted against the bill. Vaccaro’s constituents, who are against the bill, influenced his decision. Vaccaro also said he thought it would do more harm than good for marijuana smokers.

“In the past, (the police) let you go. Now they’ll give you a ticket,” Vaccaro said.

Vaccaro said prosecuting through the state was tedious for police. But this new bill will make it simpler to charge someone for marijuana possession.

“It’s going to make it a lot more convenient to give people tickets for marijuana,” Vaccaro said.

Vaccaro said the new law would make charging someone for small amounts of marijuana as easy as writing a parking ticket. He thinks people in the city will now incur more charges.

“No matter what side you’re on (in) this, I don’t believe it’s a very good ordinance,” Vaccaro said.

Mayor Francis Slay will have an opportunity to veto the bill, but Vaccaro said a veto was unlikely because the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen has enough “yes” votes to overrule a veto.

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