Good news for stoners: St. Louis has officially lowered the fine issued for small amounts of marijuana possession to just $25. In short, getting caught with pot in the city is now cheaper than an order of roasted chicken at Brasserie.
The new amount is a decrease from the $100-to-$500 fee set by the city in 2013, when the Board of Aldermen made possession of fewer than 35 grams a municipal violation to be handled in city courts, not at the circuit court level.
Passed unanimously by the city’s Board of Aldermen, the 2018 bill was sponsored by aldermanic president Lewis Reed. Mayor Lyda Krewson signed it into law on February 2; Reed’s staff says it then became effectively immediately.
But while getting busted for toking in St. Louis just got a wee bit cheaper, it continues to carry consequences. A bill being pushed by Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green that would have fully decriminalized marijuana — and barred the circuit attorney from prosecuting possession cases — stalled out at the Board of Alderman. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported yesterday, it no longer has a chance of becoming law this session.
Green’s more ambitious bill drew spirited discussion at the board, but ultimately failed to make its way out of committee. Reed, for one, laid into Green’s bill for “turning a blind eye” to the city’s violent drug trade and hamstringing police officers from investigating drug crimes.
Green, who had previously announced she’ll be running against Reed for board president, says she’ll try again next session, according to the P-D. That kicks off in April.
If possession fines have dropped to just $25, is full decriminalization still necessary? Some say yes. Police continue to cite large numbers of people for low-level possession — just as many, in fact, as when pot was handled through the criminal justice system. Blacks continue to be cited at much higher rates in St. Louis than whites, according to statistics obtained by the RFT late last year. And some advocates say that no matter how small the financial penalties, the very existence of a citation for marijuana possession can be damaging.
Defense attorney Andrea Story Rogers told the RFT that people believe pot possession in St. Louis is handled “just like a traffic ticket,” but that’s far from the case. “They pay the fine because it’s so cheap,” Rogers said. They don’t realize that they’ve effectively pleaded guilty to a drug crime: “People think this is nothing, but if you plead guilty to it, even in a municipal court, it would show up in a criminal background check. It doesn’t matter how low the fine is.”
So maybe, in the long run, getting busted in St. Louis is still not as cheap as dinner at Brasserie. But for legalization advocates, it’s still a good first course.