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Legal questions raised about Board of Alderman bill to legalize use of marijuana in the city

Cannabis plants (Credit: KMOV) Cannabis plants (Credit: KMOV)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

The debate continues over whether or not St. Louis Board of Alderman should allow people in the city to legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana without legal consequences.

Board Bill 180 faced legal scrutiny and support at a committee meeting Tuesday night.

The bill would make it legal for those under 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or under 10 plants for cultivation. Two ounces is 56 grams and currently, possession of more than 35 grams in Missouri is a felony.

“A lot of harm comes from people being incarcerated for a plant,” said Karin Chester, the executive director for the St. Louis chapter of NORML, an organization advocating for relaxing marijuana laws.

The Board of Aldermen recently passed a bill that decreased the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana but this new bill would take away those punishments altogether.

The bill’s sponsor, Alderwoman Megan Green says she hopes the bill will free up St. Louis police to fight other crime.

But in the committee meeting, the city’s counselor, Julian Bush, stated his concerns with the bill’s wording.

“It’s troubling,” said Bush.

He said his concerns were that the bill essentially punishes police officers for following state law and he went as far to say as it might implicate members of the Board of Alderman in the crime of hindering prosecution.

Green says there is room to rework parts of the bill.

But the chair of the legislative committee who has to approve the bill to move forward says he thinks there is no point in even passing it.

“The state is never going to let us do this,” said Alderman Joe Vaccaro.

Legal experts say state law is always going to preempt a city ordinance.

But Green disagrees.

“There’s really not a way for the state to shut down this legislation. What we’re talking about is the use of police resources and we explicitly under state law and our charter have local control over how we use our police resources,” she said.

The committee did not vote Wednesday night. Vaccaro said he wants to hear from St Louis Police John Hayden.

A spokesperson for SLMPD said the department has no position on the bill and that they will continue to uphold state laws.

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