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Lawmaker, prosecutor predict change in minor marijuana crime treatment

As medical marijuana policy continues to be drafted in the Capitol, talk of an overhaul in the treatment of minor marijuana crimes is beginning to circulate.

State lawmakers are considering dozens of marijuana-related bills, many focused on medical marijuana policy.

One bill, sponsored by Rep. Ron Hicks, R- Dardenne Praire, would expunge misdemeanor marijuana crimes from the records of patients who receive a license for medical cannabis.

“Kids are being kicked out of school for (misdemeanor marijuana crimes),” Hicks said. “We’re talking education here. Parents pay a lot of money for that education and then all of a sudden, it’s gone.”

The bill was passed by the Special Committee on Criminal Justice on Thursday morning. Hicks said although these people might have knowingly broken the law, prolonged prosecution is not worth the time and resources.

“You paid your fines, you did your court, you went to jail, however you had to pay back to society your debt,” Hicks said. “You’ve done that. So when is enough enough? We’re talking about a minor offense here.”

Hicks referred to his bill as “baby steps” in the larger trend of marijuana reform. Changes in the handling and prosecution of minor marijuana crimes will eventually come to Missouri, Hicks said.

“Law enforcement, in general, waste a lot of time and money on something that is soon going to be legal,” Hicks said.

Uniform Crime Reporting data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, as well as data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, show that drug possession crimes are prevalent in Mid-Missouri and the Midwest.

A 2017 FBI report on crime said 48% of all arrests for drug violation crimes in the Midwest — which include the sale, manufacturing and possession of heroin, cocaine and more — were for marijuana possession.

According to the Highway Patrol, the number of drug possession crimes in Cole County has steadily risen since 2010. There were 205 arrests for drug possession in 2010, which slowly increased to 532 in 2016. In 2018, there were 486 arrests for drug possession in the county.

“I just don’t want to see any more lives ruined, any further from now. As we move forward, and the laws lax on this, I think minds need to open up a little more, as well,” Hicks said.

Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson said one of his goals is to have misdemeanor marijuana crimes be handled by the municipal court, which is the jurisdiction for minor infractions such as parking tickets.

Thompson said minor marijuana crimes make up “a significant number of our misdemeanor caseload. Getting rid of that definitely frees us up for the more serious misdemeanor offenses you can see, like assaults, misdemeanor domestics.”

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