St. Louis Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession in the City
City leaders act to end the issue of citations that have mostly targeted Black people.
St. Louis Mayor Tisaura Jones recently signed a bill that all-but legalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city. It also protects city workers with a medical marijuana card from losing their job if they test positive for cannabis.
Missouri began its medical marijuana program in 2020, and the city of St. Louis had essentially decriminalized marijuana possession in 2013. Still, police continued to hand out citations, which could go as high as $500, primarily to Black people, according to the Riverfront Times. That's a pattern researchers have also found nationwide.
Jones said the new law aims to bring that to an end in St. Louis.
"We are seeing a major shift in the way our country sees not just marijuana, but how it connects to public safety, incarceration, and economic opportunity in our communities," she said in a news release. "This law will help reduce racial disparities in our policing, make our city safer, and make St. Louis more competitive in hiring for city positions."
Racial disparity on citations
The new law prohibits officers from initiating an interaction with someone if they smell or see cannabis. As noted by St. Louis Public Radio, the bill essentially extends the rights of medical marijuana users to all citizens.
It also protects city workers who test positive for marijuana from facing any job-related repercussions, as long as they are medical marijuana cardholders. That's an issue playing out across the country, including a firefighter who recently lost his job in Buffalo because he used medical cannabis.
Jones said the new law would stop the racial disparity in issuing citations. She cited statistics that showed that of the almost 600 people arrested in St. Louis on marijuana-related charges in the past three years, 500 were Black. That's more than 83 percent of all arrests. Black people make up 46.4 percent of the St. Louis population.
Police can now focus on more violent crime
Alderman Bret Narayan told public radio that the new law also helps police officers unfairly tasked with trying to decide on the spot whether someone is breaking the law or not. He said it's difficult for officers "to determine just with boots on the ground whether or not someone is in compliance with all of these various state laws."
He also noted that the law makes decriminalization permanent. While current St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner stopped prosecuting possession cases involving less than 100 grams in 2018, Narayan noted that a new prosecutor could quickly change that in the future. The new law protects citizens in case that occurs.
The press release from Jones' office also said the new laws prevent "marijuana from being used as sole probable cause for search or arrest, will help reduce racial disparities and give officers the ability to better focus on violent crime."