The Board of Aldermen, the law-making body of St. Louis, Missouri, voted 22 to 3 in favor of reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city to that of a traffic ticket.
Introduced earlier this year by Alderman Shane Cohn, the law gives police officers the option to redistribute some marijuana cases to the municipal court system, essentially making a criminal infraction a municipal offense.
Due to the absence of local marijuana laws in St. Louis, police charge offenders under the severe state laws.
"[Missouri] has some of the most draconian laws in the nation," John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The ordinance reduces the penalty to a $100 to $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
The policy goes into effect June 1.
According to the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Sgt. Gary Wiegert, a 32-year veteran of the St. Louis police force (SLMPD) and former Show-Me Cannabis lobbyist, is suing the department for violating his first amendment rights.
The phrase “lobbyist activities in Jefferson City” did not raise any eyebrows last month when Sgt. Wiegert filled out the necessary forms to work a second job. However, after word of Sgt. Wiegert’s off-duty activities spread, the SLMPD rescinded its permission.
The police veteran was told that he would need to obtain a business license if he wished to continue lobbying for the marijuana reform organization. Interestingly enough, the department took no issue with Sgt. Wiegert’s politicking three years ago when he began working for the St. Louis Tea Party.
Sgt. Wiegert’s attorney, Albert Watkins, alleges that his client’s superiors further infringed on his free speech rights when they issued a verbal “gag order” last Friday, requesting that he refrain from making any political statements until they could meet to discuss his lobbying.
Seeking a court injunction to prevent officials from quieting Sgt. Wiegert, Watkins filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court against the city’s Board of Police Commissioners and its five members.
“Gary Wiegert is not advocating that anybody break the law,” stated Watkins. “He is advocating as a lobbyist for an organization that wants to create a new law ... and that falls soundly within his First Amendment constitutional rights.”
Sgt. Wiegert is not alone in his advocacy. On February 7, multiple lawmakers co-sponsored a bill that would reform Missouri marijuana possession penalties, which are currently some of the strictest in the nation. More recently, Rep. Mike Colona (D-St. Louis) sponsored legislation that would allow patients with debilitating conditions to use and possess marijuana for medical purposes if their doctors recommend it.