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Lesser Drug Penalties Proposed

***UPDATE 5 P.M.***Several Missouri lawmakers have are endorsing legislation that would reduce penalties for marijuana and they say most Missourians support sweeping reforms to drug possession charges.Rep. Rory Ellinger (D) of St. Louis County says this proposes bill is a conservative approach to the issue of marijuana, and not a decriminalization.Local representative Chris Kelly says laws to deter marijuana use have been “a remarkable failure” and are often “unsuccessful, expensive, and unproductive,” according to Kelly.The bill’s sponsor says petty crimes, like possession of small amounts of weed and minor thefts, often stay on criminal records and have lasting effects.”It is simply removing something that is still considered a crime from your record,” said Rep. Ellinger.”We spend so much money and we make no difference as to the use, and what we do is we ruin hundreds of thousands of people’s lives,” said Rep. Kelly of Columbia.The first bill, modeled after an eight-year-old Columbia city ordinance that changes the penalty for first-time possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia to a fine of $250, treating the offense more like a traffic ticket.The second bill allows individuals found guilty of non-violent, non-sexual misdemeanors to be removed from criminal records after completing probation.Rep. Ellinger says he is not pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana, but Rep. Kelly says he is not opposed to that idea.”I don’t know that I’ll file legislation, but I believe in complete legalization of marijuana,” said Kelly.”The primary point we should take away from other states who have reduced penalties for marijuana possession is that use has not increased,” attorney Dan Viets added.Viets says the proposed bills may even have a positive effect on crime.”Well, it would certainly allow law enforcement to focus on serious crime and not waste their time booking and arresting and spending a lot of wasted time on pointless law enforcement activity,” he said.Rep. Ellinger says he has no idea how the measures will be received in the House of Representatives. He says sometimes it could take two or three years to get House members on board.ABC 17 News tried to reach out to a few representatives and Speaker Tim Jones, but calls were not returned.***ORIGINAL STORY***JEFFERSON CITY (AP) – Some Missouri House Democrats are looking to reduce the punishment for marijuana possession.Under a bill outlined Thursday, first-time offenders for marijuana possession would be allowed to do community service and avoid jail. If offenders complete the sentence, the convictions would be removed from their record.Rep. Rory Ellinger, a criminal defense attorney and Democrat from St. Louis, said the legislation would help people with marijuana convictions in their youth get jobs later by not having to disclose the conviction.Ellinger said the measure could save the state money by keeping first-time drug offenders out of jail.The new sentencing structure would apply only to people carrying less than 35 grams of marijuana.

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