Did Missouri Decriminalize Marijuana?

Missouri may or not may have decriminalized marijuana by reducing possession of 10 grams or less to a non-jailable offense.

The passage of Missouri Senate Bill 491 has led to confusion as to whether it actually decriminalizes marijuana. The MPP claims yes, but Dan Viets, who helped draft the bill, says, "Nobody should call this decriminalization."

The reason why is that possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana has been reduced to a Class D misdemeanor from a Class A misdemeanor.

"Decriminalization means no arrest and no criminal record," adds Viets, who is secretary and on the board of NORML, "but if cops choose to book you, they still can. It's a small step, but it's a step in the right direction."

The law now states: "The offense of possession of not more than 10 grams of marijuana or any synthetic cannabinoid is a class D misdemeanor. If the defendant has previously been found guilty of any offense to the laws related to controlled substances of this state, or of the United States, or any state, territory, or district, the offense is a class A misdemeanor."

Rather than sign the bill, Gov. Jay Nixon allowed it to pass into law on May 5.

"Gov. Nixon made Missouri history by allowing the state to join the ranks of 18 others that have eliminated the possibility of jail time for the possession of marijuana," the MPP states in a policy alert. "The new law made several significant reforms to the state’s criminal laws, including protecting people caught with up to 10 grams from incarceration."

The MPP admits, however, that "the law is somewhat limited. It will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017, and the protections against jail time only apply to people without prior marijuana convictions. Also, a possession charge - even without the possibility of jail time - is still a crime and can mark a person for life, affecting housing, employment, and future employment opportunities. Nonetheless, this represents several major improvements."

Mason Tvert, MPP's director of communications, tells CelebStoner: "The terms 'decriminalize' and 'legalize' are both pretty ambiguous and subjective, so there are always questions that arise about what any given law should be labeled. Generally, we consider a state to have 'decriminalized' if it has removed the threat of jail time for the lowest-level marijuana possession offenses. It’s my understanding that this is what the Missouri measure does (i.e. removes threat of incarceration for possession of up to 10 grams), hence it is being considered 'decriminalization.'”

NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre disagrees: "Whether this is 'decriminalization' or not depends on one’s definition of that term. Most people believe the traditional definition of decriminalization is (1) no arrest, (2) no possibility of jail and (3) no criminal conviction record. By that definition, this bill is not decriminalization because it does not prohibit police officers from arresting people. It leaves that discretion with the police." 

Under current Missouri law, possession of less than 35 grams of pot is punishable by one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

So which is it - decrim or not? Let us know what you think…

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.