St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell.
When an internal policy memo from St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell leaked to local media last week, its sections on marijuana were overshadowed by the controversy over the office's new child support policy
, as well as Bell's decision to to fire
several veteran prosecutors.
But though Bell complained in a January 5 Facebook post
that the memo's policies should not have been interpreted as "finalized," his office confirmed to the RFT
Friday that, as outlined in the memo, it is indeed halting the prosecution of all marijuana possession cases under 100 grams.
The policy, says Bell's chief of staff Sam Alton, is already in action.
"For possession cases alone — not a possession with a weapon or an intent to sell — possession alone, that policy is in effect and will stay in effect," Alton wrote in an email last week.
That means the isolated crime of marijuana possession is no longer a crime in St. Louis County. According to the memo
, "Prosecution of more than 100 grams of marijuana will only be pursued if evidence suggests the sale/distribution of marijuana."
It's important to note that while Bell's office handles felony and misdemeanor cases across St. Louis County, the 87 municipalities within its borders can still deploy police and write citations to enforce their own local ordinances. Although those come with no chance of prison, they can still count as convictions on your record.
Still, it's a major shift that the county's chief prosecutor will be declining such possession cases — one that brings St. Louis County in line with a new policy rolled out last year in St. Louis city
"If a municipality sends our office a case of possession of less than 100 grams, and that is the only charge that does not meet an exception and/or there is no extenuating circumstance, our office will not entertain and/or issue on that case," Alton wrote. "We look forward to working with the municipalities on this and every other issue."
Here's the relevant portion from Bell's policy memo:
The leaked Bell memo's section on marijuana policy.
Language in the memo seems designed to disrupt multiple corners of justice system. Associate prosecutors are instructed to issue "Nolle Prosequis" on current marijuana possession cases under 100 grams, formally abandoning even those cases involving a plea deal. Also cancelled: Warrants filed for failure to appear "on possession of marijuana matters."
The policy also reaches into the probation system, where until now a positive test for weed could result in a violation and a possible return to prison. According to the new policy, associate prosecutors "will not file or pursue Motions to Revoke Probation arising solely from the use or possession of marijuana."
In the email, Alton explains that the office is looking into past cases as well, ones in which individuals had their probation revoked solely for marijuana possession.
"If those cases meet the standard, they will also be subject to review and possible dismissal," he wrote.
Bell's policy now makes St. Louis County the third major Missouri municipality to end prosecution of most marijuana possession cases. In June, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner set a similar policy in an email to staffers
Then, in November, after Missouri voters approved a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Bakers announced that her office would respond to the "mandate from voters"
and end the prosecution of most marijuana possession cases. The policy, which affects Kansas City and its suburbs, was met with support by Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forté, who called it "bold and progressive."
That hasn't been the reaction in St. Louis County.
Although the region voted for Bell, some members of the county police department aren't that eager for the changes he seeks to implement. In an interview with KMOX
, St. Louis County Police union president Joe Patterson claimed last week that officers are still obligated to enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana, no matter what Bell wants.
"I can't pull a guy over with 96 grams of weed in his pocket and just let him keep it. That's not something we can do," he said. "We're still going to have to either write a county-level arrest summons, or there's other recourses we have."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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