In a press conference at the Missouri state Capitol on the morning of Thursday, February 7, three members of the Missouri House of Representatives announced they are co-sponsoring, along with several other House members, legislation which would significantly reduce the penalties for marijuana and paraphernalia possession in the state of Missouri. Representative Rory Ellinger of University City is the chief sponsor of these bills. Representative Chris Kelly of Boone County and Representative Clem Smith of St. Louis joined with Representative Ellinger to speak in favor of the bills.
One of the bills is modeled on the Columbia ordinance passed by voters there in 2004. It would eliminate the possibility of arrest or jail for marijuana and paraphernalia possession. It would limit fines for such offenses to no more than $250, but it would also specifically encourage the Courts to make use of a disposition known as “Suspended Imposition of Sentence” (SIS) probation. When a Defendant is granted SIS probation, the Defendant is not convicted of the offense and, when that probation is successfully completed, there is no longer any public record of the entire matter.
Decriminalization of marijuana is generally defined as a law which eliminates the possibility of arrest or jail and which limits punishment to a fine only. By that definition, this legislation would be decriminalization, but it is certainly not legalization.
Many members of the state media attended the press conference. Representative Ellinger was asked if this is a “stepping stone” to full legalization. He stated that he was not presently promoting any further reform. However, Representative Kelly, a former Associate Circuit Judge, stated that he supports moving beyond this reform to full legalization, including taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce. Representative Smith stated that his district includes a college campus and that a minor marijuana offense should not haunt a young person for the rest of his or her life.
Joining the three House members were former City of Columbia Prosecuting Attorney Marcie Bower and former University of Missouri Professor of Sociology, Dr. John Galliher. Both of them expressed support for the legislation. Dan Viets of SMCR also took part in the press conference and helped organize it.
The second bill introduced by Representative Ellinger would expand the use of expungement. Presently, only a very few specific offenses can be expunged under Missouri law. This bill would allow for the expungement of all misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana and paraphernalia cases, in both state and municipal courts, with the exception of violent or sex-related charges. Expungement would be available after five years with no additional similar convictions.
Representative Ellinger is requesting that the House Speaker assign both of these bills to committees as soon as possible. It is hoped that a hearing on each bill will be scheduled shortly thereafter. SMCR will keep you informed of the progress of this legislation. Each of us should immediately contact our Missouri State Representative and urge him or her to join as a co-sponsor of these bills and vote for them.