St. Louis’ legislative body unanimously passed a bill that would decriminalize cannabis possession and cultivation for adults in the city.
The Board of Aldermen approved the measure, sponsored by Alderman Bret Narayan (D) with 11 cosponsors, in a 23-0 vote. The bill won’t affect Missouri’s state cannabis laws, where possession and cultivation remain prohibited, but local ordinances in St. Louis penalizing these offenses will be repealed.
Possession of up to two ounces of cannabis will no longer be subject to a civil penalty, while the measure stipulates that “no resources” can be used to penalize adults 21 and older who grow up to six marijuana plants.
The bill affords protection to registered medical marijuana patients who work for the city from “adverse employer actions based on a positive drug test for marijuana.”
Another provision ensures law enforcement in St. Louis will no longer be able to use cannabis odor or the sight of it as cause for search or arrest.
“This bill basically just harmonizes our local ordinance with the state’s constitution, as well as further decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana,” Narayan said prior to the vote. “It has the buy-in from the public safety director, it has the buy-in from the director of personnel. We’ve talked to basically every stakeholder along the way.”
Following the vote, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said she looked forward to signing the bill into law, describing the current punitive approach to marijuana as “unfair, unnecessary and discriminatory.”
In 2018, St. Louis lawmakers reduced the penalty for low-level cannabis possession to a $25 fine, and Narayan said the new bill is the next step for the city to help undo the harms of cannabis prohibition.
It remains a criminal offense to supply minors with cannabis, possess amounts greater than two ounces and to sell marijuana at a property where it is prohibited.
Public consumption of marijuana is also still prohibited “except for displays and consumption on private residential property where the person consuming marijuana is either an owner of the property, a person who has a leasehold interest in the property, or any other person who has been granted express or implied permission to consume marijuana on the property by the owner or the lessee of the property.”
In its preamble, Narayan’s bill describes the reform in St. Louis as necessary with reference to the voter-approved state ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana in Missouri so as to “avoid subjecting to invasive searches and seizures citizens who are lawfully availing themselves of medical therapies provided by the state constitution.”
St. Louis’ decision to decriminalize cannabis possession and cultivation comes one year after Kansas City lawmakers voted to end all marijuana possession penalties under the city’s local laws. Wichita, the state capital, decriminalized cannabis possession in 2015.
Meanwhile, multiple marijuana reform groups are busy trying to get a recreational cannabis legalization question on the state’s 2022 ballot.
New Approach Missouri canceled its efforts in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but is working on a similar proposal this year, as is Fair Access Missouri.
Legal Missouri 2022 has already qualified its proposal for the ballot. If approved by voters, it would legalize possession and sales with tax revenues allocated initially to facilitate expungements of prior cannabis convictions. When these are sufficiently funded, further revenues would go towards various social programs, including veterans’ healthcare, treatments for substance misuse and Missouri’s public defender system.