Introduction

Marijuana legalization is slowly spreading across the United States, and in November 2018, Missourians voted in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana, passed by a margin of 64% to 34%.

This change will allow qualified patients and caregivers to receive ID cards from the state, so they can grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase at least 4oz of cannabis from dispensaries each month. Doctors will be able to issue these cards for any condition they see fit, and business licenses will be obtainable for cultivation, infused-product manufacturing, and dispensaries.

Though there are no current changes to the criminal charges of possession due to this law, there may be some relaxation in certain areas of Missouri, as you can read about below.

This article will help guide you through the history of marijuana law in Missouri as well as the new amendment, and what changes and difficulties this new amendment brings.

History

Missouri has historically had one of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation. In the early 1900s, the maximum charge for selling marijuana to minors was the death penalty.

The first move toward legalization was in 1994, when they first tried to legalize medical marijuana but encountered difficulties because marijuana was not considered a medicine under federal law, so they gave up their efforts.

It wasn’t until 2014 that CBD oil (a non-psychoactive derivative of marijuana) was allowed for severe sufferers of seizures.

Changes in Recent Years

In 2014, a revamp of the state’s criminal code removed the possibility of jail time for first-time possession. So, now first-time offenders who possess up to 10g may have to pay a fine of up to $500 but are not at risk of jail time. However, sentences for those convicted of sales, trafficking or cultivation are still strict.

Now, with the legalization of medical marijuana, Missouri must have 192 medical marijuana dispensaries by 2020. However, it will take time for the infrastructure to become established, and it’s unlikely that patients and businesses will see their ID cards and licenses approved much before the end of 2019.

Difficulties

Missouri’s executive branch is looking to move quickly, but there is speculation around how quickly these changes will truly come into effect. Doctor Gil Mobley, who has ties in both Missouri and Washington State, where marijuana was legalized for medical use in 1998, said, “there are tremendous mountains to move … they won’t even have the paperwork ready until January 2020.” He went on to advise patients to open a dialogue with their doctors know about their conditions, as although doctors should be able to approve medical marijuana for any condition, he foresees patients finding difficulty in proving the severity of their conditions.

There are also questions about qualifying patients’ eligibility for state-governed jobs, as well as other positions that require a clean drug test. Similarly, concerns have been raised on whether Missourians can use medical marijuana and receive welfare help, as receiving these benefits is dependent on drug-screening policies.

Law enforcement has expressed a fear of an increase in incidents of driving under the influence (DUI), as patients may believe they are safe to drive, as well as an increase in unlawful growing operations. An increase in DUI offenses has been reported in other states that have successfully made medical marijuana legal, though statistical reports from Colorado argue that 94% of DUI charges are still alcohol-induced, and only 6% as cannabis-induced, though there is some room for error here, since there is no breathalizer equivalent for marijuana intoxication.

The introduction of the ID cards should make it easy for law enforcement to determine who should be in possession of marijuana and who shouldn’t.

Law enforcement leaders have, for the most part, vocally opposed any legalization of marijuana, and the new amendment will not change those feelings. Any recreational use of marijuana will still be illegal and enforced.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which can complicate the prescription of the drug. It will be important for patients to remember that the ID card only protects them within Missouri and will not apply outside the state.

It will also be completely illegal to possess both medical marijuana and a gun.

Conviction

It’s important that you seek immediate legal help if you have been charged with a marijuana offense. If you have the approved ID card, then the presentation of this card will show law enforcement that you are legally allowed to possess it.

Combs Law Group is here to assist you if you are in the St. Louis Metro area and have been charged with a marijuana offense. We can provide you the support and defense you need and protect your freedom. We offer free consultations and have extensive experience in drug-related charges.

Below you’ll find the possible outcomes of a marijuana charge.

Possession

  • Up to 10g – first offense: Misdemeanor (up to $500 fine, no jail time)
    second offense: Misdemeanor (up to 1 year in jail)
  • 10-35g: Class A Misdemeanor (up to 1 year incarceration & $1,000 fine)
  • 35g-30kg: Class C felony (1 year incarceration & $5,000 fine)
  • More than 100kg is considered trafficking

Sale

  • Less than 5g: Class C felony (up to 7 years incarceration & $5,000 fine)
  • 5g-30kg: Class B felony (5-15 years incarceration & $20,000 fine)
  • Distribution to a minor, 17 years old or 2 years junior: Class B felony
    Or, if within 2000ft of a school or public housing: Class A felony

Trafficking

  • Trafficking drugs 1st degree, distribution/attempt to deliver 30-100kg: Class A felony (10 years to life incarceration and $20,000 fine)
  • 100kg and over: Class A felony (10 years to life incarceration without possibility of parole)
  • Trafficking drugs 2nd degree, buying/attempt to purchase 30-100kg: Class B felony
  • 100kg and over, or over 500 plants: Class A felony  

Future of Marijuana Charges

As you can see above, marijuana charges carry heavy, often life-changing penalties. However, with the legalization of medical marijuana, it’s likely that the criminal charges against recreational use and small-volume possession will relax in some areas.

Jackson County Prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker, said her office would cease prosecuting most marijuana cases, and that the change in attitude toward marijuana had been forecast by juries for some time.

The sentiment has been repeated elsewhere, both in Missouri and across the whole of the United States. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said that her office would no longer prosecute for small amounts of marijuana.

Consequently, law enforcement leaders are following their lead. Jackson County Sherriff Darryl Forte said he would have to look at their policies before proceeding since they would not present any drug cases if they weren’t going to be prosecuted. The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office handled hundreds of marijuana possession cases each year before the new laws came into effect.

It’s unlikely that cases will be dismissed because of the new law, but pending cases will be evaluated taking the new law into consideration, and possession charges are likely to experience much lighter penalties than stated above. People caught distributing marijuana illegally will still face prosecution.

Tim Garrison, US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, emphasized that the new law has not changed the status of marijuana as an illegal drug under federal law, but that federal prosecutions in his district have always focused on large drug trafficking organizations, not single-person possession charges.

Some counties will still prosecute for small charges, so these attitudes are not universal. Clay County Prosecutor Daniel White said, “We’re going to handle what the police department brings us and the state of Missouri says is a crime.”

Other states saw this lightening of marijuana charges and prosecution when medical marijuana was legalized so this trend may continue in Missouri.

As Missouri prosecutors, courts and law enforcement find their footing on this new ground, it’s vital that you still take any marijuana charge seriously, and seek legal advice as soon as possible to avoid escalation or any negative effect on your career, family or freedom. Combs Law Group offers a free consultation and provides 24/7 attention to our clients, so we’ll always be here if you should need us. Please call us at 314-578-1465.

About Chris Combs

A St. Louis native and graduate of Saint Louis University Law School, Chris Combs has been recognized as one of St. Louis' top criminal defense and personal injury attorneys. He is passionate about getting positive results for all his clients and values personal communication above all.

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