St. Louis lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession and cultivation for adults.

The Board of Aldermen voted 23-0 on final passage of the cannabis measure, days after giving it preliminary approval.

The proposal from Alderman Bret Narayan (D) wouldn’t change Missouri state laws that continue to criminalize marijuana, but local ordinances penalizing low-level possession and cultivation would be repealed.

“This bill basically just harmonizes our local ordinance with the state’s constitution, as well as further decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana,” Narayan said ahead of the vote on Tuesday. “It has the buy-in from the public safety director, it has the buy-in from the director of personnel. We’ve talked to basically every stakeholder along the way.”

Adults 21 and older could possess up to two ounces of marijuana without facing the civil penalty that’s currently in place. It would also make it so that “no resources” could be spent to punish adults for cultivating up to six flowering plants.

Further, the proposal would permit city employees who are medical cannabis patients to present their state-issued ID cards “to avoid adverse employer actions based on a positive drug test for marijuana.”

The measure, which has 11 cosponsors, is also supported by Mayor Tishaura Jones (D).

In a video posted on Tuesday after the Board vote, the mayor criticized “outdated marijuana laws that are unfair, unnecessary and discriminatory” and said she looks forward to signing the new legislation.

The measure will “help reduce racial disparities and give officers more time to focus on violent crime,” she said.

Narayan’s bill would specifically prohibit the use of city resources to enforce laws against low-level cannabis possession, as well as possession of drug paraphernalia.

It would additionally prevent police from using the smell or visual presence of marijuana smoke as a basis to conduct a search or arrest someone.

Narayan said the legislation is meant to build upon the city’s earlier 2018 reform move, when lawmakers made it so the penalty for possession would be a $25 fine. The new bill would repeal statute allowing for a penalty altogether.

Activities that would remain criminalized include providing marijuana to underage people, possessing excess cannabis and selling marijuana at a property that prohibits it.

An amendment that was adopted to the bill ahead of last week’s perfection vote prohibits the public use of marijuana “except for displays and consumption on private residential property where the person consuming marijuana is either an owner of the property, a person who has a leasehold interest in the property, or any other person who has been granted express or implied permission to consume marijuana on the property by the owner or the lessee of the property.”

The “whereas” section of the bill states that the reform is necessary because “individual residents of the State of Missouri are now permitted to be in possession of marijuana and to cultivate marijuana under certain circumstances” and the “City of St. Louis seeks to avoid subjecting to invasive searches and seizures citizens who are lawfully availing themselves of medical therapies provided for the state constitution.”

Missouri voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2018.

This action from the St. Louis Board of Alderman comes one year after the Kansas City, Missouri City Council voted to approve an ordinance ending all penalties for marijuana possession under the municipality’s local laws.

In that city, Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) and four local lawmakers filed the cannabis measure, which similarly repeals a provision of the Code of Ordinances stipulating that possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana carries a $25 fine and more than 35 grams is punishable by a $500 fine.

In September, the City Council also approved a measure making it so most government workers in Kansas City will no longer face pre-employment drug tests for cannabis.

Meanwhile, at least two activists groups in the state are aiming to place the question of adult-use marijuana legalization before voters in 2022.

Under Legal Missouri 2022’s proposal, tax revenue from marijuana sales would first support automatic expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions and then go to programs for veterans’ health care, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.

New Approach Missouri, which has the same leaders as one of the new 2022 efforts, successfully got its medical cannabis measure passed by voters in 2018 in a year in which competing marijuana proposals were also on the ballot.

The organization tried to place the issue of recreational legalization before voters last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that effort.

Meanwhile, some advocates want the legislature to take the lead on reform. And Rep. Shamed Dogan (R), who filed a resolution last year to ask voters about legalization on the ballot and compel lawmakers to develop a legal system if approved, is expected to make another push for similar legislation early next year after the prior effort failed to advance this session.

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Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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