Jefferson City, MO: Legislation recently approved by state lawmakers to rewrite Missouri's criminal code includes provisions reducing marijuana possession penalties. The sentencing reform measure, Senate Bill 491, awaits action from Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon, who has until mid-May to either approve or veto the legislation.
Under present law, the possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one-year incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Under the proposed law, the possession of ten grams or less of cannabis will be punishable by a fine only. The possession of greater quantities of cannabis will remain punishable by jail time.
In 2010, Missouri police made nearly 18,500 criminal arrests for marijuana possession offenses, one of the highest totals in the nation.
Separate provisions in the bill amend Missouri's 'prior and persistent drug offender' law, eliminating the mandate that persons convicted of a drug felony offense for the third time do not qualify for probation or parole.
Lawmakers and advocates spent eight years drafting the legislation, which significantly revises the state's criminal code for the first time in over 30 years. Missouri NORML Coordinator Dan Viets served on the Missouri Bar Association Committee that authored many of the criminal code revisions.
Senate Bill 491 possesses veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers. Senators voted 29 to 2 in favor of the reform measure, while House members approved the legislation by a vote of 140 to 15. The measure may also become law without the Governor's signature.
If approved, the changes to the Missouri criminal code will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2017.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500, or Missouri NORML at: http://www.monorml.org/.