by Sam Levin
Last month, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen overwhelmingly approved a measure to reform local marijuana laws so that minor possession cases will be handled as fines in city court and not misdemeanor charges in state court.
Mayor Francis Slay officially signed the bill into law last week, his spokeswoman tells Daily RFT, which means that starting June 1, the new ordinance will go into effect.
We recently got a chance to ask St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson for his perspective on the new law, which supporters say will encourage law-enforcement officials to use resources more efficiently.
Dotson says he is hopeful it will have a positive impact -- but emphasizes that it won't make it easier to get away with illegal drug possession.
See also: - Marijuana: St. Louis Board of Aldermen Passes Pot Reform Bill - Poll Says Majority of Missourians Favor Legalizing Pot, Regulating Like Alcohol - Police Sgt. Gary Wiegert is Suing Department for Suppressing His Pot Lobbying
"This isn't legalizing marijuana," Dotson says.
What does the bill do?
As we've reported, the bill, written by Alderman Shane Cohn, directs metro police officers who arrest individuals for minor possession charges to bring the cases to municipal court instead of to the circuit attorney's office (which is a higher-level prosecution). At that lower level, the charges are treated more like city traffic tickets instead of misdemeanors.
Cohn says it will alleviate both police and court resources. The circuit attorney's office also supports the measure, arguing it will be a more efficient use of resources that will also generate tax revenue for the city in fines.
Dotson says that city court is a better place for these minor cases to be handled.
The main goal, he says, is still to "stop people from doing things that are illegal."
"I'm always concerned about the nexus that exists between drug sales and violence," he says.
At the state level, misdemeanor charges tied to possession of small amounts of pot would sometimes go nowhere, because the courts don't always have the capacity to handle these cases, Dotson explains.
Now, metro officers can bring these first-time offenders with an amount of pot under 35 grams to city court -- where it is more likely there will be a prosecution, he explains.
That penalty, however, will be a fine ranging from $100 to $500.
If convicted through the higher court, those same offenses could have previously involved jail time.
This reform, Dotson says, "is opening up other prosecutorial opportunities for the department."
And Dotson and other supporters of the measure argue that this reform would lead to prosecutions that are more productive and suitable for those who are caught, too.
Slay, who has emphasized that he does not support the legalization of marijuana, told us in a previous interview that he hopes this kind of reform would free up jail space for more serious criminals.