St. Louis aldermen reduce marijuana penalty

Monday, April 15, 2013 | 3:41 p.m. CDT; updated 5:58 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 15, 2013

ST. LOUIS — People caught with small amounts of marijuana in St. Louis will soon be penalized the same way as those who get a traffic ticket.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that aldermen voted 22-3 on Monday in favor of a law giving officers the option of moving some marijuana cases to the municipal court system. Violators would generally be given a summons to appear in municipal court rather than being handcuffed and booked at the police station. The law takes effect June 1.

"I think this is a good step for the city of St. Louis," said Alderman Shane Cohn, sponsor of the bill. "It doesn't legalize marijuana, but it gives fairness."

Under state law, possession of 35 grams or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. But the penalty for violating the city's ordinance is a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

Other Missouri cities also have reduced marijuana penalties. Voters in Columbia approved a law similar to Cohn's plan in 2004. The Springfield City Council last year approved an ordinance reducing marijuana-related penalties after a successful citizen initiative. But the council repealed it less than a month later as critics said it made the city look "drug-friendly" and would put it at odds with the federal stance against marijuana.

John Payne, director of the pro-legalization group Show-Me Cannabis, lauded the St. Louis vote and said he hopes it leads to legalization of marijuana in Missouri.

"The state has some of the most draconian laws in the nation," Payne said.

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